UN in communication with North Korea over detained US soldier

The UN Command says it is in communication with North Korea over Travis King, who crossed into the country on July 18.

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A TV screen shows a file image of American soldier Travis King during a news programme at the Seoul Railway Station, South Korea, July 22, 2023 [Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo]

The United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korea have begun discussing the case of Travis King, the American soldier who crossed into the North last week, the deputy commander of the United States-led command that oversees the Korean Armistice Agreement said on Monday.

King, a US Army private serving in South Korea, sprinted into North Korea on July 18 while on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone on the inter-Korean border.

INTERACTIVE US soldier flee North Korea Travis King-1689765395

Conversations between the UNC and North Korea’s military were initiated and conducted through a mechanism established under the armistice, according to Lieutenant General Andrew Harrison, a British Army officer serving as deputy commander of the multinational force.

“The primary concern for us is Private King’s welfare,” Harrison told a media briefing, declining to go into detail.

“The conversation has commenced with the KPA [Korean People’s Army] through the mechanisms of the [Korean] Armistice Agreement,” Harrison said, adding, “I can’t say anything that could prejudice that process.”

North Korea’s state media, which have usually commented whenever US nationals have been detained, have remained tight-lipped over King’s crossing into the country.

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US Private Travis King (wearing a black shirt and black cap) is seen in this picture taken during a tour of the tightly controlled Joint Security Area (JSA) on the border between the two Koreas, at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, July 18, 2023 [Sarah Leslie/Handout via Reuters]

Rising North Korea-US tensions

The incident comes at a time of heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Last week, North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests hours after a US nuclear-armed ballistic missile-capable submarine arrived at a South Korean port.

It was the first such visit since the 1980s and served as a clear reminder to the North that Washington has nuclear-tipped missiles always deployed within close striking distance.

North Korea is banned under UN Security Council resolutions from using ballistic missile technology, which Pyongyang defiantly rejects.

On Saturday, the North fired a barrage of cruise missiles towards the sea to the west of the Korean Peninsula. On Monday, another US nuclear-powered submarine arrived in South Korea.

North Korea also warned on Thursday that the deployment of US aircraft carriers, bombers or missile submarines in South Korea could meet the criteria for its use of nuclear weapons.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies