Travis King Arrives in Texas After Release From N. Korea

A media screen shows a file image of American soldier Travis King during a news program at the Seoul railway station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – U.S. Army Private Travis King landed at a U.S. military base in Texas early on Thursday after being expelled from North Korea following his surprise dash across the heavily militarized border two months ago, CNN reported.

King arrived on a U.S. military flight, landing at Kelly Field at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, CNN cited a U.S. Defense Department official as saying.

Media footage showed a group of people leaving a plane at the base. U.S. officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

King is expected to undergo a medical review at Brooke Army Medical Center, a hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

The U.S. government has said that upon his return King will first undergo an evaluation and then a reintegration process so he can be reunited with his family.

King, 23, ran into North Korea from the South on July 18 while on a civilian tour of the heavily fortified border and was immediately taken into North Korean custody.

It was unclear if King will face disciplinary action by the U.S. Army, which has treated his case with care. The Army has so far not called him a deserter, even though he crossed the border without authorization while on active duty.

For its part, North Korea appears to have treated his case as one of illegal immigration.

North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said King told Pyongyang he entered North Korea illegally because he was “disillusioned about unequal U.S. society.”

The Swedish government, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic presence in the country, retrieved King in North Korea and brought him to China.

The State Department said the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, met King in Dandong, China, a city bordering North Korea. King then flew from there to Shenyang, China, then to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, before continuing his voyage back to the United States. King, who joined the U.S. Army in January 2021, faced two allegations of assault in South Korea. He pleaded guilty to one instance of assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car during a tirade against Koreans, according to court documents. He had been due to face more disciplinary measures when he arrived back in the United States.

In July, King had finished serving military detention and was at the airport awaiting U.S. military transport to his home unit in the United States. Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran into North Korea despite attempts by South Korean and U.S. guards to stop him.

While details about the diplomacy that led to King’s transfer remained unclear, the development was a rare example of cooperation between the United States, North Korea and China.

Asked for more details on Beijing’s role, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular briefing: “At the request of the DPRK and the United States, China has provided necessary humanitarian assistance.”

DPRK are the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea has in the past released videos featuring U.S. defectors to depict “evil” Americans, but state media has not released any photos or videos of King so far, apparently opting not to use him for propaganda purposes.

Pyongyang’s decision not to try to use King as a bargaining chip indicated it was sticking by its pledge not to engage in nuclear talks with the United States unless there is a big shift in Washington’s policy, said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea’s Kyungnam University.

“They must have concluded that there’s more to lose than to gain in detaining him longer. They would have also taken into consideration the international criticism they might have to face if King falls ill while in North Korea,” said Lim.

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