In a major development, Travis King, the US soldier who crossed into North Korea, is in American custody, according to two US officials. One official told the AP that King was transferred to US custody in China.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss King’s status ahead of the US announcement.
Earlier today, North Korea said it would expel the soldier who crossed into the country two months ago through the heavily armed border separating the Koreas.
The announcement of Pvt. Travis King’s release came relatively quickly and surprised some observers who had expected the North to drag out his detention in the hopes of squeezing concessions from Washington at a time of high tensions between the rivals.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that authorities have finished their questioning of King but did not say when officials plan to expel him or where.
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The United States, South Korea and others have accused North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions. Some foreign detainees have said after their releases that their declarations of guilt while in North Korean custody were made under coercion.
A U.S. Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the U.S. had no way to verify North Korea’s claims about King. The official said the Pentagon was working through all available channels to bring King back to the US.
“This is 100% North Korean propaganda in its element. King, as an American citizen held in North Korea, has no sway in how (North Korea) chooses to cast its narrative,” said Soo Kim, an expert with Virginia-based consultancy LMI and a former CIA analyst.
Travis King's mom appeals to North to treat her son humanely
“As for King’s release, his fate rests in North Korea’s hands. Perhaps the regime will try to ‘bargain’ King’s life in exchange for financial concessions from the U.S. More than likely, negotiations won’t be easy, and terms will be dictated by Pyongyang,” she said.
The soldier’s family said his mother, Claudine Gates, is appealing to North Korea to treat her son humanely.