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US soldier who crossed North Korean border released and now in US custody

THE US SOLDIER who illegally crossed the heavily armed border into North Korea is in American custody, US officials have confirmed.

“I can immediately confirm that Private Travis King is in US custody,” a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.

One official said that Travis King was transferred to US custody in China.

Earlier, North Korea had said it would deport the soldier who crossed from South Korea last July.

Pyongyang had “decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the U.S. Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic”, the Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday, using the North’s formal name.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said that authorities had finished their questioning of King.

It said that he confessed to illegally entering the North because he harboured “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the US Army and was “disillusioned about the unequal US society”.

King, who had served in South Korea, sprinted into North Korea while on a civilian tour of a border village on 18 July, becoming the first American confirmed to be detained in the North in nearly five years.

At the time he joined the civilian tour and crossed the border, he was supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss in Texas following his release from prison in South Korea on an assault conviction.

After weeks of silence, North Korea confirmed in August that it had detained King and was questioning the circumstances surrounding his border crossing.

In an interview last month with The Associated Press, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said her son had “so many reasons” to want to come home.

“I just can’t see him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” she said.

The 23-year-old was among about 28,000 US troops stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea.

US officials had expressed concern about his well-being, citing the North’s harsh treatment of some American detainees in the past.

They also said that King has been declared AWOL, which can be punished by time in detention, forfeiture of pay or dishonourable discharge, with the severity based on the amount of time away and whether the service member was apprehended or returned on their own.

Unauthorised crossings of the Koreas’ heavily fortified border are extremely rare.

The few Americans who crossed into North Korea in the past include soldiers, missionaries, human rights advocates or those simply curious about one of the world’s most secret societies.

With reporting from Press Association and AFP.