Pvt. Travis King. (IANS Photo)
Seoul, August 16 (IANS): North Korea on Wednesday said a U. soldier who crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into the country last month admitted that he "illegally intruded" due to "inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army", claiming that he has expressed a willingness to seek refuge there or in a third country.
It marked the North's first public confirmation of the status of Pvt. Travis King, who crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) into the North during a tour to the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the DMZ on July 18, reports Yonhap News Agency.
"Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report.
DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society," it added.
The KCNA said its soldiers took custody of King after he "deliberately intruded" into the North's side of the JSA and that an investigation by a "relevant organ" is ongoing.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense said the alleged comments by King cannot be "verified" and that it is focused on bringing him back home.
"We cannot verify these alleged comments," a Pentagon spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency.
"The department's priority is to bring Pvt. King home, and we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome."
US officials have previously said King "willfully" crossed the MDL "without authorisation" and that the North has not made any substantive response to its inquiries over his status.
The US-led UN Command, which oversees activities in the DMZ, earlier said it is working with its North Korean counterparts to resolve the incident but has declined to provide details.
King had faced legal trouble after being stationed in South Korea.
He was detained in a South Korean prison workshop from May 24 to July 10 after failing to pay a fine for damaging a police patrol car last year.
On October 8, 2022 South Korean police apprehended King for suspected violence at a nightclub in western Seoul.
He reportedly did not cooperate with police officers demanding his personal information and kicked the door of their vehicle.
King was set to return to the US on July 17, where he could have faced additional disciplinary action, but he did not board his flight at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, and took part in the JSA tour the next day.
The incident came as tensions have run high due to North Korea's continued weapons tests, including a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile launch last month.
Direct diplomatic talks between the US and the North have been stalled since their working-level nuclear talks in Sweden in October 2019 in the wake of the bilateral no-deal summit in Hanoi in February of that year.