US soldier released by N Korea is on way home

UPDATED AT 2:25 p.m. EDT on Sept. 27, 2023.
Travis King, the American soldier who suddenly sprinted into North Korea from a border area in South Korea, is on his way home and “appears to be in good health and spirits,” U.S. officials said on Wednesday.  
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said King was met on China’s border with North Korea by U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns after being expelled by Pyongyang after two months in the country. He was then transferred to the Osan Air Force base in South Korea.
King, who fled into North Korea on July 18, was en route back to the United States on Wednesday afternoon, Miller said. He thanked Sweden, which represents the United States in Pyongyang, for their assistance in negotiating King’s release with the North Koreans.
“We thank Sweden and the People"s Republic of China for their assistance in facilitating that transfer,” he said. “He is now on his way to the United States and we expect him to arrive in the coming hours.”
Miller declined to comment on any possible punishment for King.
King was on a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area between North and South Korea in Panmunjom when he suddenly ran into North Korea. Another person on the tour told CBS News at the time that he said a "loud "ha ha ha"” and then ran “between some buildings.” 
Prior to the official announcement of King’s release by Pyongyang on Wednesday, White House officials speaking on condition of anonymity said no concessions were made to Pyongyang to secure his release.
Beijing played “a very constructive role” in allowing his passage into China, one of the officials said, before noting China did not mediate any negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. 
Another official said King “appears to be in good health and good spirits” and “was very happy to be on his way home,” but declined to say whether King explained why he had crossed into North Korea.
“He is very much looking forward to being reunited with his family,” they said. “That is the sentiment that is pervading all else right now.”
A spokesperson for Travis King’s mother, Claudine Gates, released a statement thanking the U.S. Army for getting her son back, but said the family did not plan to do any media interviews in the near future.
“Ms Gates will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done,” the spokesperson said.
North Korea had earlier Wednesday announced King’s expulsion.
“The relevant organs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have decided to deport U.S. soldier Travis King in accordance with the laws for illegally entering the territory of the republic,” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said late Wednesday.
“The investigation into U.S. soldier Travis King has been concluded,” KCNA continued, claiming that mistreatment he received from the United States was his primary motive for crossing the border.
“Travis King confessed that he illegally entered the territory of the DPRK due to inhuman treatment in the U.S. military, antipathy to racism, and disillusionment with the unequal U.S. society,” it said.
The authenticity of the statements by King – the first American held in nearly five years – couldn’t be independently confirmed. 
The announcement, made at 6 a.m. EST, appeared to signal Pyongyang had trouble exploiting their capture of the American citizen, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul who had advised the South Korean government.
“If the decision was unilateral, it suggests that North Korea found King to be of no use,” Yang said. “As a U.S. soldier facing disciplinary action and fleeing to North Korea, King presented a challenging figure for North Korea to leverage for propaganda purposes.”
“Given the current tense relations between the U.S. and North Korea, a corresponding deal seems improbable,” he added. “Consequently, the influence on existing U.S.-North Korea, or inter-Korean relations appears to be minimal.”
King was the sole known U.S. national detained in North Korea, and his case represents the first known detention of a U.S. citizen since that of Bruce Byron Lowrance in November 2018.
The 23-year-old Private King trespassed into North Korean land via the inter-Korean Joint Security Area in Panmunjom on July 18. Pyongyang later announced that the U.S. soldier has been under investigation since his detention.
Edited by Elaine Chan and Taejun Kang.


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