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US soldier Travis King, who dashed to North Korea, facing charges of desertion and child pornography

King illegally crossed over from South to North Korea in July and was said to have attempted to escape "inhumane treatment" in the US Army. He was released and returned to the United States in September after help from Sweden and surprisingly China.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: October 20, 2023 18:39 IST
The 23-year-old Travis King, who fled to North Korea in
Image Source : AP The 23-year-old Travis King, who fled to North Korea in July.

US soldier Travis King, who illegally crossed over from South to North Korea in July and was returned home last month, is facing multiple charges including desertion and soliciting sexual images of a child among others.

According to a BBC report, King has also been charged with assault against fellow military personnel. He was expelled from North Korea and returned home in September, following his illegal entry and subsequent detainment in the Kim Jong Un-ruled country.

The 23-year-old reconnaissance specialist might be facing as many as eight charges, and could be jailed for the charge of desertion alone. Prior to his attempt to enter North Korea, King was accused of broad misconduct and soliciting a Snapchat user in July to "knowingly and willingly produce child pornography" along with possession.

King's mother Claudia Gates asked that her son "be afforded the presumption of innocence". He has been a part of the US Army since 2021 and was previously detained in South Korea for two months for assaulting two people and kicking a police car.

King's return from North Korea

King already had troubles since his return. He was declared AWOL (absent without leave from the Army), which can mean punishment in a military jail, forfeiture of pay or a dishonourable discharge. In the near term, officials said that their focus would be on helping King reintegrate into US society, including helping him address mental and emotional concerns, according to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the transfer.

It is unknown how North Korea treated the soldier during his detainment, although it was widely suspected that Pyongyang would use him as a bargaining chip for squeezing concessions from the US as tensions between the two countries remain high.

North Korean authorities claimed that King harboured ill feelings over inhumane treatment and racial discrimination within the US Army. Citing the statement released by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un government, state media KCNA reported that King had expressed “his willingness to seek refugee” in North Korea or a third country. 

However, in a surprise announcement, North Korea announced that they would expel King. As per state media, the decision was taken after conducting a full investigation into his border crossing in July. For the first time, a rare phenomenon was seen where US ally Sweden and rival China helped with the transfer.

Why does North Korea decide to release Travis King?

Officials said they did not know exactly why North Korea decided to expel King, but suspected Pyongyang determined that as a low-ranking serviceman, he had no real value in terms of either leverage or information. One official, who was not authorised to comment and requested anonymity, said the North Koreans may have decided that King, 23, was more trouble to keep than to simply release him.

Swedish officials took King to the Chinese border, where he was met by the US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, the Swedish ambassador to China, and at least one US Defense Department official. Biden administration officials insisted they provided no concessions to North Korea to secure the soldier’s release.

“We thank the government of Sweden for its diplomatic role serving as the protecting power for the United States in the DPRK and the government of the People’s Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating the transit of Private King,” Sullivan added.

(with inputs from agency)

ALSO READ | VIDEO: US soldier Travis King arrives back in country after North Korea expulsion, Biden thanks China

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