Soldier who crossed North Korea’s border charged with desertion

October 20, 2023

Army Pvt. Travis King, who ran across the border into North Korea in July, has been charged with desertion, according to documents obtained by Reuters.

Along with desertion, 23-year-old King has also been charged with assault against fellow soldiers and solicitation of child pornography.

According to the Pentagon, King was taken into North Korean custody in July after he “willfully and without authorization” crossed into the North while on a group tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA), which lies in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.

King had been assigned to South Korea as a member of the First Brigade Combat Team, First Armored Division. In the days before he ran across the border, he was released from a South Korean detention center where he had been held for 48 days on assault charges.

Though he was escorted by U.S. military personnel to Incheon International Airport outside Seoul to board a plane to the United States, where he was expected to face additional disciplinary action, he instead took a tour bus to the JSA.

The U.S. State Department bans Americans from entering North Korea “due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long term detention of U.S. nationals.”

The ban was put in place after American college student Otto Warmbier was detained in North Korea while on a tour of the country in 2015. He died in 2017, days after he was released from prison and returned to the United States in a coma.

King was returned to U.S. custody late last month, after North Korea expelled him into China. Ahead of his deportation, North Korean state media reported that Pyongyang’s investigation into King “has been finished.”

The Army Pvt. was flown to a hospital in Texas on September 28 for medical and mental evaluations, though details about his treatment while in North Korea’s custody remains scarce. 

Army documents include a total of eight distinct charges against King, including allegations of broad misconduct from before his border crossing, and an alleged attempt to escape military custody in October 2022.

Desertion carries a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay, and confinement of five years. 

In a statement provided by a family spokesperson to Reuters, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, expressed her unconditional love and asked that her son “be afforded the presumption of innocence.”

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