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A US Army private crossed into North Korea to escape disciplinary action

North Korea is reportedly detaining an active duty U.S. Army soldier after he illegally crossed the Demilitarized Zone during a tour.
Miguel Ortiz Avatar
Army private crossed into North Korea
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

North Korea is reportedly detaining an active duty U.S. Army soldier after he illegally crossed the Demilitarized Zone during a tour. Private 2nd Class Travis King, age 23, was being escorted back to the United States for disciplinary action after being released from a South Korean prison where he was held on charges of assault. King was released by his escorts at customs but managed to evade airport security in Seoul before joining a DMZ tour group. U.S. military officials told CBS that he crossed into North Korea “willfully and without authorization.”

dmz tours where Army private crossed into North Korea
Military and civilian tours to the Korean DMZ are common, though they rarely end in international incidents (U.S. Army)

An eyewitness on the tour with King reported to CBS that the private laughed out loud and began running between buildings at the DMZ. “I thought it was a bad joke at first, but, when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke,” the witness said. “And then everybody reacted and things got crazy.”

The DMZ and joint security area is run by the United Nations Command. A UNC team made contact with the Korean People’s Army of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to negotiate King’s release. “We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” the UNC posted on Twitter.

korean armistice agreement
The Korean Armistice Agreement is signed at Panmunjom (National Archives)

On July 27, 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. Although it brought about the end of hostilities in the Korean War, no peace treaty was signed. Moreover, then-South Korean President Syngman Rhee refused to sign the armistice. While the Korean War is considered over, North and South Korea officially remain at war. Since 1953, the DMZ along the 38th Parallel has divided the two nations.

According to the South Korean government, over 1,000 people fled North Korea for China annually prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in 2020, the DPRK sealed its borders and has not reopened them. In 2017, a KPA soldier stole a truck and then ran on foot to defect across the DMZ to South Korea. He was shot at by communist troops but survived and successfully escaped to the south.

dmz jsa
The JSA is the only place in the DMZ where troops face each other across the border (U.S. Army)

Also in 2017, a U.S. student was arrested and imprisoned in North Korea for stealing a propaganda poster. He was released later that year in a comatose state and died shortly thereafter. The Trump Administration took a strong stance against North Korea after the student’s death and secured the release of three U.S. citizens in 2018.