North: US military scrambles to determine fate of soldier who fled to N Korea

WASHINTON: The US military was scrambling Wednesday to determine the fate of an American soldier who made an unauthorised crossing of the inter-Korean border into North Korea, throwing Washington into a new crisis with the nuclear-armed state. Private Travis T King was facing disciplinary action. While on an orientation tour on the border between the two Koreas, King crossed into North Korea on Tuesday “wilfully and without authorisation”, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said. “We believe he is in (North Korean) custody,” Austin told a briefing.
North Korea’s state media has made no mention ofthe incident. Its mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The crossing comes at a time of renewed tension on the Korean peninsula, with the arrival on Tuesday of a US nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine, and the test launch early on Wednesday of two ballistic missiles into the sea by North Korea.
The UN Command had communicated over a hotline with the North Koreans about the US soldier, a spokesperson for US Forces Korea said. “It’s all part of the armistice agreement,” he said. The soldier was on a tour of the Panmunjom truce village when he crossed the Military Demarcation Line that separates the two Koreas. His motive is not known. While based in South Korea, he faced accusations of assault and damaging a police car in a October. He pled guilty and was sentenced to a fine.
King had finished serving in military detention and was transported by the US military to the airport to return to his home unit in the US, officials said. He had passed alone through security to his gate and then fled. Civilian tours of the demilitarised zone are advertised at the airport and King appeared to have decided to join one, an official said. The incident occurred as South Korean and US officials held the first round of talks on upgrading coordination in the event of a nuclear war with North Korea.

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