US soldier Travis King: North Korea speaks of fleeing “racial discrimination” in the army – USA wants safe return

US soldier Travis King: North Korea speaks of fleeing

According to information from Pyongyang, US soldier Travis King, who fled South Korea to North Korea in July, has confessed. King admitted to entering North Korea “illegally” to escape “the inhumane abuse and racial discrimination in the US Army,” state news agency KCNA reported on Wednesday.

North Korea experts see the choice of words as indications of a negotiating tactic. The US government declined to comment on the statements and reiterated its commitment to King’s “safe return”.

King is disillusioned with the “unequal society” in the US and ready to seek refuge in North Korea or a third country, KCNA further reported. He was arrested by the people’s arms, the investigation continued. The government in Pyongyang took a public position on the case for the first time. KCNA did not provide any information about King’s health or whereabouts.

The US soldier was due to be flown to the US in July after a fight, an altercation with police and a jail term in South Korea. However, he was able to escape from the airport and join a sightseeing tour of the Demilitarized Zone. There he crossed the border from South to North Korea. At this point, the highly secured border between the two countries is only marked by a low concrete wall.

Washington cannot verify statements

The US State Department said on Wednesday that Washington could not “verify the statements attributed to the soldier King”. A spokesman said Washington “remained focused on his safe return.” “It is the State Department’s priority to bring Soldier King home.” This is being worked on “through all available channels”.

View of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
View of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
© dpa/Kim Hong-Ji

Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, assumes that North Korea promises that the announcement about King will place the issue at a trilateral summit meeting on Friday between the USA, Japan and South Korea. At the meeting, closer military cooperation between the countries against nuclear threats from North Korea is to be decided. In particular, using the term “illegal entry” is a tactic, Yang said – it “implies the possibility of deportation and can be used in negotiations with the US.”

North Korea’s first official comment on King was purely propaganda, said political adviser and former CIA operative Soo Kim. His conversion offered the communist leadership several opportunities: “First, of course, the possibility of negotiations with the United States about King’s release,” she said.

Internationally largely isolated, North Korea has a long history of using captured US citizens as leverage and is a “tough negotiator,” Soo said. Therefore, it would not be easy for Washington to secure his release.

A welcome opportunity for North Korea’s propaganda

Second, according to Soo, King’s defection provides a propaganda opportunity for Pyongyang to scathingly criticize the US and portray it as the root of all political and social ills. In fact, shortly before its announcement on King, KNCA released a statement in which, among other things, the US was described as “an anti-grassroots and utterly depraved evil empire.”

Vladimir Tikhonov, a professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, said he could imagine that King “as a black man has some propaganda value for North Koreans” because “racism and black abuse” has been a feature of North Korean propaganda for a long time repeatedly emphasized during the Korean War.

The incident came at a time when relations between North and South Korea are extremely tense and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has called for increased war preparations and the mass production of various weapons and the expansion of its nuclear arsenal.

The two Korean states remain technically at war. The conflict between 1950 and 1953 ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. (afp)

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