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Travis King in US custody after North Korea expulsion

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Travis King has not been seen or heard of since he left South Korea in July

By Bernd Debusmann Jr

BBC News, Washington

US soldier Travis King, who fled to North Korea in July, is in American custody after being expelled by Pyongyang, officials say.

According to US media reports, Pte King was transferred to US custody in China.

The 23-year-old reconnaissance specialist illegally crossed into North Korea in July.

North Korean media said he had fled because of “inhuman treatment” and racism within the US military.

His condition and the details of his confinement in North Korea remain unclear.

Earlier on Wednesday, North Korea’s state-run news agency said the country had decided to remove Pte King, without offering further details.

“The relevant body in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has decided to deport US soldier Travis King, who illegally entered the territory of the republic, in accordance with the laws of the republic,” it said.

Pte King had been in the army since January 2021 and was in South Korea as part of a unit rotation.

Before entering North Korea, he had served two months in detention in South Korea for assault charges before being released on 10 July.

He had been due to return to the US for disciplinary proceedings, but managed to leave the airport and join a tour of the heavily guarded Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two countries, from which he fled.

It is unclear whether Pte King could face additional charges stemming from his decision to enter North Korea.

The US Department of State, White House and defence department did not immediately comment on the matter.

A spokesman for the King family also said that “no substantive comment” was expected for now, according to Reuters news agency.

His family have previously told US media that he had experienced discrimination while serving in the military and that his mental health had suffered during his months in South Korean custody.

North Korea’s move to release Pte King after 71 days is fast when compared with other Americans that the country has previously held.

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency last month, Pte King’s mother Claudine Gates said her son had “so many reasons to come home”.

“I just can’t see him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America,” she said.