According to reports, North Korea has detained a serving US soldier who illegally crossed the heavily fortified border from South Korea.
The passenger was on a tour of the UN-managed zone separating the two countries. The crisis occurs at a particularly tense moment with one of the world's most isolated states, the North. The United States issues a travel warning to its citizens.
A senior US commander stated that no contact had been made with the soldier. The commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquilino, stated that he was "not tracking" contact with North Korea. He stated that the soldier had acted voluntarily by "making a run" but without authorization, and that US Forces Korea was investigating the incident.
Several hours after the apprehension of the soldier, North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the surrounding sea. Confirmed by South Korea's military, the missile launch occurs amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. There is no indication that the launch is related to the detention of the soldier.
It is unknown whether the man defected to North Korea or intends to return. No word has yet arrived from the north. The soldier has been identified as Private 2nd Class (PV2) Travis King, according to the Pentagon. A spokesperson for the Pentagon stated in a statement that PV2 King had served in the military since January 2021.
He is a reconnaissance-specialized cavalry officer who was originally assigned to a unit of the 1st armored Division in South Korea. The United Nations Command, which manages the Demilitarized Zone and joint security area (JSA), previously stated that its staff attempted to negotiate his release with the North Korean military.
It is also not known under what conditions PV2 King is currently detained. Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in Washington, DC, told sources that North Korean authorities were likely to extract information from him regarding his military service and attempt to coerce him into becoming a propaganda tool.
Since the Korean War in the 1950s, when the United States supported the South, the DMZ has divided the two nations. The conflict ended in an armistice, so technically the two sides are still at war.
In 2017, a North Korean soldier drove a vehicle to the Joint Security Area and then dashed across the military demarcation line, South Korea reported at the time. According to data disclosed by the South Korean government, prior to the pandemic, more than one thousand North Koreans fled annually to China.
The detention of the soldier presents US President Joe Biden with a significant foreign policy dilemma. PV2 King is presumed to be the only American in North Korean custody at present. Six South Koreans continue to be detained there.
In 2018, three American citizens were later released during the presidency of Donald Trump. In the end, however, the series of discussions between Kim Jong Un and the former president of the United States did little to improve relations.
Since then, North Korea has tested dozens of increasingly potent missiles that could carry nuclear payloads, prompting a slew of sanctions from the United States and its allies.