The US does not know where the soldier is or what happened to him after he crossed the border into North Korea.
SEOUL, South Korea — The White House on Thursday expressed deep concern about the health of a U.S. soldier who rushed across the heavily armed North Korean border earlier this week when North Korean officials Tien has yet to respond to US requests for background information about the incident. AWOL soldiers.
The history of rough treatment of Americans held by North Koreans – including the 2017 death of a 22-year-old student after he was sent home in a vegetative state after 17 months in captivity – is covered. top concern as US officials seek answers about Pvt . King Travis.
“This is not a country known for its humane treatment of Americans or anyone else for that matter,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. “We don’t know where he is. We don’t know what conditions he’s living in right now. And it is not knowing that is what worries us deeply and we are doing our best to get as much information as possible about him.”
Without mentioning the soldier, North Korea’s defense minister on Thursday issued a tacit threat, hinting that a US nuclear-armed submarine’s docking in South Korea could be the basis for a military operation. a North Korean nuclear attack. North Korea has used such rhetoric before, but the latest threat could signal just how strained relations are today.
Kingwho is believed to be on his way to Fort Bliss, Texas, after serving a prison sentence in South Korea for assault, came across North Korea while on a civilian tour of his border village Panmunjom on Tuesday. He is the first known American to be detained in North Korea in nearly five years.
According to a US official, King – who chose to serve his time at a labor camp rather than pay a fine of nearly $4,000 – has been declared AWOL. Penalties for unpaid absences can include cellar detention, salary deductions or reprehensible dismissal and are largely based on the length of time they were away and whether they were arrested or returned on their own. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
King, 23, has not been declared a deserter, which is a much more serious offense. Often the military waits for a period of time to see if an enlisted member will return, but that is highly unlikely in this case. Desertion can result in prison sentences of up to three years and — in wartime — can result in the death penalty.
Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told reporters on Thursday that King was not escorted to the gate because he was not in custody and there was no expectation that he would not board the plane home.
Soldiers escorted him to passport control and were not allowed to go any further than that. Singh said he confirmed to the US military that he was near the gate. King knew he was going back to Texas to face the possibility of being discharged.
When asked if King was still alive, Singh said the US did not know his state of health.
She said “we do not assess” that King is a threat or a security liability, when asked if he has the intelligence North Korea wants. She added that the department had given no indication that King’s decision to flee to North Korea was pre-planned or organized with Pyongyang.
When asked if the US feared King might be mistreated or tortured by North Korea, Kirby replied that North Korea is a “brutal regime” but the US has yet to confirm he is being tortured. how to behave.
Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was arrested by North Korean authorities from a tour group in January 2016 and found guilty of attempting to steal a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years of labor. miserably. He served 17 months of his sentence before being returned to the US in a vegetative state.
Although it did not give a clear reason why Warmbier suffered brain damage, North Korea denied Warmbier’s family alleges that he was tortured and insisted they gave him medical care “with all sincerity”. “.
The US and North Korea, which fought in the 1950-1953 Korean War, are technically still at war because that conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and no peace. have diplomatic relations. Sweden has provided consular services to Americans in previous cases, but Swedish diplomats are said to have not returned since North Korea ordered foreigners to leave the country. at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The United States can also communicate with North Korea through a hotline at the U.S.-led United Nations Command in Panmunjom – called ” pink phone.”
The State Department on Wednesday confirmed it had reached out to officials in South Korea and Sweden for help reaching the North Koreans. Jeon Ha-kyu, a spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry, said on Thursday that his ministry was sharing information with the US-led United Nations Command in South Korea without elaborating.
Meanwhile, North Korean Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam issued a statement in state media calling the recent US submarine deployment “the most direct and obvious nuclear threat.” for North Korea. He warned the deployment could be one of the anticipated scenarios in a new law that would allow the use of pre-emptive nuclear weapons in many cases.
“The US military side should realize that their nuclear assets have entered extremely dangerous waters,” Kang said.
Some experts still doubt that North Korea can use such weapons before facing superior US and South Korean forces.
The deployment, which took place the day King’s crossed the border, is part of steps by the United States to strengthen its security commitment to North Korea’s adversary, South Korea. North Korea later test-fire two missiles.
Stress can complicate efforts to free King.
“North Korea will not ‘catch and release’ a person who crosses the border. … However, the Kim regime has little incentive to keep an American citizen for long, as doing so can entail legal liability,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said.
“For Pyongyang, it makes sense to seek some kind of compensation and then deport an American who entered the country illegally before a single incident escalates in a risky way,” he said. for North Korea’s financial and diplomatic interests.
Other experts say North Korea will not easily return King because he is a soldier who appears to have voluntarily fled to North Korea, although many previously detained US citizens were released after the US sent high-ranking delegations to Pyongyang to secure their freedom.
North Korea has previously hosted some Americans who have been arrested for anti-state, espionage and other charges. But no other Americans have been detained since North Korea expelled American Bruce Byron Lowrance in 2018. During the Cold War, a handful of American soldiers who fled to North Korea later appeared in propaganda films. Korean tradition.
King’s motive for crossing the border remains unknown. king family member said the soldier may have felt overwhelmed by legal trouble in South Korea, which could lead to his discharge.
King, who is serving in Korea as a cavalry scout for the 1st Armored Division, was released earlier this month after 47 days of hard labor in the prison camp. In February, a Seoul court fined him 5 million won ($3,950) after finding him guilty of assaulting another person and damaging a police vehicle, according to a transcript of the sentence obtained by the Associated Press. . The ruling said King had also been accused of punching a man at a Seoul nightclub, although the court dismissed that charge because the victim did not want King to be punished.
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer of Madison, Wisconsin and Melissa Winder of Kenosha, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.