In an unusual twist, an American soldier has been detained by North Korean authorities after he crossed the border into the communist nation on Tuesday.
South Korean media reported the detainee is Travis King, a private second class in the U.S. Army. He was apparently participating in a visit to the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
This is the boundary separating the North and South that is patrolled by soldiers from each. Reports said King crossed into North Korean territory at 3:27 p.m. local time.
CBS News reported that an eyewitness in the tour group told the network that they had just concluded a visit to one of the JSA village buildings. They said King shouted “a loud ‘ha, ha, ha’ and just [ran] in between some buildings.”
The tour leaders and participants reportedly watched in stunned silence.
The witness told the outlet that they initially thought it was a joke. “But when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy.”
WAR: North Korea arrested Private Second Class Travis King while he was in the Joint Security Area between South and North Korea.https://t.co/b91ShdlJ0j
— @amuse (@amuse) July 18, 2023
The United Nations Command that operates the demilitarized zone said it is likely that King is being held in custody.
It tweeted that a U.S. national participating in the JSA tour crossed to the North “without authorization.” The U.N. Command added, “We believe he is currently in DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident.”
Colonel Isaac Taylor is a spokesperson for the U.S. military in South Korea (USFK). Speaking to Reuters, he declined to confirm that the person who breached the DMZ is indeed an American soldier.
He told the outlet that “we’re still doing some research into this, and everything that happened.”
The incident came at a moment when tensions are high between North Korea and its southern neighbor. The North ignored world opinion and carried out regular tests of powerful missiles capable of being armed with nuclear warheads in recent months.
Just last week, it launched a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile.
The two sides have been divided since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and are still technically in conflict.