Soldier back in US after release by N.Korea

A TV screen shows a file image of American soldier Travis King during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on Aug 16, 2023 when he sprinted into North Korea. - AP

WASHINGTON (AFP): American soldier Travis King has returned to the United States after being freed by North Korea, a Defense Department official said Thursday (Sept 28).

"I can confirm that he has landed in the US," the official told AFP, without providing further details.

A US official previously said King would be taken to the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas upon his return to the United States -- the same place that American basketball star Brittney Griner was evaluated after being released by Russia.

After a drunken pub fight, an incident with police and a stay in South Korean jail, Private Second Class King was being taken to the airport in July to fly back to Texas.

But instead of travelling to Fort Bliss for disciplinary hearings, he snuck away, joined a Demilitarized Zone sightseeing trip and slipped over the border.

Last month, Pyongyang confirmed it was holding him, saying King had defected to North Korea to escape "mistreatment and racial discrimination in the US Army."

But after completing its investigation, Pyongyang has "decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the US Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic," the Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday, using the North's formal acronym.

King's border crossing came with relations between the two Koreas at one of their lowest points ever, with diplomacy stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un calling for increased weapons development, including tactical nuclear warheads.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a treaty, and most of the border between them is heavily fortified.

One of the last US citizens to be detained by the North was student Otto Warmbier, who was held for a year and a half before being released in a coma to the United States. He died six days later.

Around half a dozen American soldiers made rare defections to the North after the Korean War and were used for the country's propaganda.

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