He bolted across the line to the Northern side, and has not been seen or heard from since.
King told North Korean investigators, according to the North’s state-run Korea Central News Agency, that he decided to cross into North Korea because of his “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”
He also expressed his willingness to seek refuge in North Korea or a third country. the report said.
King admitted to “illegally” intruding into the North, KCNA said, without mentioning any resulting punishment of the soldier.
The state media report did not specify King’s health status or plans for his release, and its version of events could not be independently corroborated.
The U.S. Defense Department said it could not verify North Korea’s comments on King.
“We remain focused on his safe return,” Pentagon spokesman Martin Meiners said. U.S. defense officials have previously said that the American serviceman “willfully and without authorization” crossed into the North.
King crossed into the North on July 18 after skipping the flight back to the United States. The 23-year-old had just completed almost two months of a hard labor sentence in South Korea for assault charges. He enlisted in 2021 and served as a cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division.
The United States has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, and has been working with Sweden to help secure King’s return. Sweden has an embassy in Pyongyang but its diplomats have not returned to North Korea since they were ordered to leave during the covid-19 pandemic.
North Korea has only briefly responded to an inquiry about the detained serviceman, which was a mere “acknowledgment call,” the Pentagon said earlier this month.
King is the first U.S. national known to be detained in North Korea in nearly five years. North Korea has a history of detaining foreign nationals for charges including espionage and using them as propaganda tools.
Analysts said the Kim Jong Un regime could use King’s detention as a bargaining chip to win concessions from the Biden administration. Disarmament talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been stalled for years due to disagreements over sanctions relief.
The Kim regime in recent years ramped up its weapons testing to a record level and criticized Washington for expanding its military exercises with South Korea. The militaries of the two allies will kick off a new round of large-scale military drills next week to bolster joint deterrence against the North’s threats.
North Korea’s comments about King came ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Kim regime’s human rights abuses later this week, called at the request of the United States, sparking angry protests from Pyongyang.
North Korea’s vice foreign minister Kim Son Gyong on Tuesday criticized the U.S. for politicizing human rights and its “hostility.” Kim accused the U.S. of its own violations, citing “racism, gun violence, child abuse and forced labor” in the United States.