Listen to this article here
Days after U.S. soldier Travis King bolted past the demilitarized zone from South Korea into North Korea, his condition remains unknown even as international officials open lines of communication with the hermit kingdom.
It’s unclear why Private 2nd Class King made the deadly decision to venture into North Korea, but he was facing administrative charges in the U.S. and a possible military discharge after being detained in a South Korean jail for months on sexual assault allegations.
On Monday, the American-led U.N. Command, which was established during the Korean War, announced it had opened lines of communication with North Korea as officials and King’s family seek his safe return.
“None of us know where this is going to end,” British lieutenant general and deputy commander at the U.N. Command Andrew Harrison told media outlets at a press conference in Seoul. “The primary concern for us is Private King’s welfare.”
The commander provided little details about how and when the communications with North Korea had begun or whether progress had been made, according to the Associated Press.
Why did Travis King step into a hostile country?
King was released from a South Korean jail on July 10 over sexual assault charges, according to officials. He was supposed to board a plane to Fort Bliss, Texas, to face possible further military discipline. Instead, witnesses who spoke with Army officials say he bolted past the notorious dividing line separating democratic South Korean, a U.S. ally, from its northern neighbor.
Known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border between North Korea and South Korea includes a buffer zone that remains heavily patrolled. The two countries remain officially at war even after signing an Armistice agreement to end fighting in 1953.
Regardless of the reason he allegedly fled his post, King’s family wants his son safely returned home.
“I just want my son back. Get my son home. Get my son home. Pray that he comes back,” King’s mother, Claudine Gates, told reporters.
Disappearance of U.S. soldier comes amid high tensions between North and South Korea.
According to Army officials, King has been classified as AWOL, or absent without official leave, yet they don’t currently know whether he’s alive or dead.
His disappearance comes at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and the U.S.
In response to what it considers provocative actions by the dictatorship, the U.S. military has docked a nuclear ballistic missile submarine in South Korea this month for the first time in four decades. In retaliation, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic in a show of force.
Some politicians worry King’s disappearance will be used as leverage by North Korea, which has long sought an end to U.S. and South Korean joint military drills, along with crippling sanctions.
“I’m sure that he’s not being treated very well,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said Sunday. “I think it was a serious mistake on his part, and I hope we can get him back.”
The Black Wall Street Times has reached out to U.N. Command for an update.