North Korea has confirmed the presence of Pvt. Travis King in its territory, adding that the soldier had sought refuge due to alleged maltreatment and racism he faced in the U.S. Army.
What North Korea is saying: King, 23, who crossed the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on July 18, expressed “his willingness to seek refuge” in North Korea or a third country, state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Wednesday. The soldier allegedly explained that he made the decision because he “harbored ill feelings against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”
King was “kept under control” by North Korean soldiers following his crossing, according to KCNA. Investigation into his illegal entry will reportedly continue.
Background: King ran past the demarcation line into North Korea while on a civilian tour on July 18. He was scheduled to return to the U.S. a day earlier and face disciplinary action over an assault conviction in South Korea.
North Korea remained silent over the matter until Wednesday’s report. His mother, Claudine Gates, is now asking Pyongyang to treat her son “humanely” and “would be grateful for a phone call from him,” said family spokesperson Jonathan Franks.
What his family is saying: King’s family has expressed doubts since the news of his crossing broke out in mid-July. His sister, Jaqueda Gates, told NBC News “it all just sounds made up,” and that King had shared his excitement to go home.
Meanwhile, King’s uncle, Myron Gates, told ABC News that his nephew was experiencing racism during his military deployment, claiming at one point that he said, “They’re trying to kill me.” Claudine added that during a phone call, her son repeatedly told her, “I’m not the Army soldier you want me to be,” before he was taken to a hospital.
Possible propaganda: Verifying the authenticity of King’s alleged statements is impossible in North Korea, where outgoing information is strictly controlled by the state. One expert slammed KCNA’s report as absolute propaganda.
“This is 100% North Korean propaganda in its element. King, as an American citizen held in North Korea, has no sway in how (North Korea) chooses to cast its narrative,” Soo Kim, an expert with Virginia-based consultancy LMI and a former CIA analyst, told AP News.