(Reuters) – The United States is trying to determine the fate of Private Travis T. King, a U.S. soldier who made an unauthorised crossing into North Korea on July 18, throwing Washington into a new crisis in its dealing with Pyongyang.
WHO IS PRIVATE TRAVIS T. KING?
Private Travis T. King, who joined the U.S. Army in January 2021, is a Cavalry Scout with the Korean Rotational Force, which is part of the U.S. security commitment to South Korea.
He was originally assigned to an element of the U.S. 1st Armored Division and was now administratively attached to a unit in 4th Infantry Division, a U.S. army spokesperson said.
His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal and Overseas Service Ribbon.
WHAT DISCIPLINARY ACTION WAS HE FACING?
Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had been due to face U.S. military disciplinary action, without saying what the action was linked to.
A South Korean court ruling said King pleaded guilty to assault and destruction of public goods stemming from an incident in October and on Feb. 8 the Seoul Western District Court fined him 5 million won ($4,000).
The ruling said King had punched a man in the face at a club on Sept. 25 but the case was settled, then on Oct. 8 police responded to a report of another altercation involving King and tried to question him but he continued his “aggressive behaviour” without answering questions.
Police placed him in the backseat of their patrol car where he shouted expletives and insults, kicking the vehicle’s door and causing about 584,000 won in damage, the ruling said.
The court said the defendant admitted to the charges, had no previous criminal record and paid 1 million won to fix the vehicle, citing reasons in favour of him in the sentencing.
HOW DID HE GET TO THE BORDER?
Two U.S. officials said King had finished serving military detention and had been transported by the U.S. military to the airport to return to his home unit in the United States.
He had passed alone through security to his gate at the airport and then fled, one official said. The Korea Times, citing an airport official, reported that King told airline workers his passport was missing to avoid boarding the flight.
Civilian tours of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) are advertised at the airport and King appeared to have decided to join one, an official said.
Such tours typically require at least 72 hours to arrange due to security requirements. It is unclear how King joined.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE BORDER?
King was on a tour of the Panmunjom truce village when he crossed the Military Demarcation Line that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice, U.S. officials said.
Sarah Leslie, a tourist from New Zealand who was on the tour with King, said she saw him suddenly run across the border as U.S. and South Korean troops tried unsuccessfully to stop him.
WHY DID HE CROSS TO NORTH KOREA AND WHERE IS HE NOW?
King’s motivation remains unclear. His mother, Claudine Gates, told ABC News she was shocked at the news her son had crossed into North Korea. “I can’t see Travis doing anything like that,” she said.
U.S. officials say King is likely to be in North Korean custody. North Korea’s state media has made no mention of the incident and its mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment.