A top US State Department official fears that North Korea may impose a ‘price’ on the return of a defecting US soldier.
US Army Private 2nd Class Travis King faces disciplinary action in South Korea for alleged crimes committed while crossing the demilitarized zone into the communist country last Tuesday.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCall now says the North Koreans may have capitalized on the 23-year-old’s defection from Wisconsin.
‘I’m sure he’s not being treated very well,’ McCall told ABC This Week’s Martha Raddatz on Sunday. ‘I think it was a serious mistake on his part and I hope we can get him back.
‘We see this with Russia, China, Iran: when they capture an American, especially a soldier, they put a price on him,’ he continued. ‘And that’s what I’m worried about.’
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCall said on Sunday he was concerned the North Koreans might demand a ‘price’ for the return of a US troop.
US Army Private 2nd Class Travis King is facing disciplinary action in South Korea for alleged crimes committed when he crossed the demilitarized zone into the communist country last Tuesday.
Speaking of King’s decision to enter the communist country, McCall suggested on Sunday ‘he’s running away from his problems.’
‘He was facing disciplinary charges, and was about to get a flight back to the US,’ McCall explained.
That flight would have brought King to Texas, where he will face a ‘termination of administrative separation process for foreign convictions’ hearing after 47 days in a South Korean detention facility.
He was detained in an assault case and a South Korean police car was also reportedly damaged.
‘But instead, he didn’t get on the plane, went to the DMZ with a tour group and then ran across the line,’ McCall said. ‘It’s something you don’t do.’
Officials have alleged in recent weeks that the king fled to the country, docking a US nuclear submarine in South Korea amid rising tensions between the US and North Korea.
Asked about the implications of having submarines so close to an authoritarian country, McCall claimed it was important to show US power.
McCall said of the USS Kentucky, ‘It is the projection of power that we need right now to deter aggression.
‘We’re seeing a very aggressive — not just North Korea and Japan launching rockets into the sea — but we’re also seeing aggression from China.
‘North Korea needs to know we’re there, we have superiority with nuclear subs,’ McCall explained.
‘We have to get to their heads and [Chinese] Chairman Shi [Jinping]The idea is that if you do something militarily aggressive, there will be consequences.’
The king, during the visit, has been circled shortly before crossing the border into North Korea. His hat was bought from a gift shop in the Demilitarized Zone
King was scheduled to board a flight back to the United States to face a disciplinary hearing
The king was on a civilian visit to the truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday when he crossed the military demarcation line that has separated the two Koreas since the armistice ended in 1953 with the Korean War.
King was fined for the assault while in South Korea and was detained for more than a month before the US military took him to Incheon International Airport for a commercial flight to Dallas, Texas, according to US officials.
Once through security, he told airline staff at the departure gate that he had lost his passport and returned to the terminal, an airport official said on condition of anonymity.
A visitor on a border tour captured King in a photograph shortly before entering the secretive communist state.
Wearing a black t-shirt and hat, Raja is seen strolling across the border into a secret communist country bought from a gift shop in the Demilitarized Zone.
Witnesses said he laughed hysterically at his military superiors in a frenzy after escaping and joining the tour.
The tourist who witnessed King’s crossing and photographed New Zealand soldier Sarah Leslie said she initially believed it was a stunt ‘for TikTok’.
The group leaves Seoul by bus early in the morning, and Leslie notices that King is traveling alone and doesn’t seem to be talking to others on the tour. At one point, he said, he bought a DMZ hat at a gift shop.
The tour was nearing its end on Tuesday afternoon — the group had just exited the building and met for photos — when she saw King running ‘really fast’.
‘I initially assumed that one of his mates had filmed him doing a really stupid prank or stunt, like a TikTok, the stupidest thing you can do,’ said Leslie. ‘But I heard a soldier shout, ‘Take that man.’
King was fined for the assault while in South Korea and detained for over a month
His defection comes amid heightened tensions with North Korea, which in recent weeks has talked about docking the USS Kentucky ballistic missile submarine in South Korea.
So far, North Korean officials have been tight-lipped about the king’s status in the communist country, despite Biden administration officials reaching out ‘through multiple channels’.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said the US Army’s Counterintelligence Office and US forces in South Korea are now investigating what led King to make such a misguided decision.
Singh declined to directly answer questions about whether the Pentagon believes King is still alive. He said the US military could not provide any information about King’s condition.
‘We don’t know his condition. We do not know where he is kept. We don’t know his health status,’ Singh said, describing his formal status in the military as ‘AWOL’ or absent without leave.
Meanwhile, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said she just wants her son back.
‘Take my son home, take my son home and pray. Pray that he comes back,’ he told local television station WISN.
She also said she was ‘very proud’ of her son and added: ‘I just want him back home, back to America.’
Added Gates, from Racine, Wisconsin: ‘I can’t see Travis doing anything like that.’
Other family members suggested that King was not thinking clearly when he fled to North Korea.
His uncle Myron Gates said, ‘To my knowledge, I’ve only heard that he, I guess, got into a fight with some Koreans.’
‘And it was kind of hard, you know, to believe that, too. Like, somebody had to push him to do it because he’s not the violent type.’
Myron and Carl Gates, King’s grandfather, said they were both confused and concerned for King’s well-being.
‘I was really surprised. I heard about it from my little niece, she sent me a link and I read his name, Travis King. I’m fine, huh? It knocked me out,’ says Myron Gates.
‘I think something is wrong with him. He doesn’t think clearly. I don’t think he will run like this. I don’t see that,’ said Carl Gates.
Speaking from her home in Racine, Wisconsin, Claudine Gates expressed her longing to have her son back and urged people to pray for his recovery.
Myron Gates, the uncle of US soldier Travis King, said: ‘Someone had to push him to do it because he is not a violent person.
Court documents show King was found guilty of assault and destruction of public property stemming from an incident in October, and the Seoul Western District Court fined him 5 million won ($4,000) on Feb. 8, according to a copy of the ruling reviewed by Reuters.
Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the soldier faced disciplinary action by the U.S. military. It is unclear whether the disciplinary action was linked to his conviction for damaging a police vehicle.
A Seoul court said King punched a man in the face several times at a club on September 25 last year but the case was settled.
Two weeks later, on October 8, police officers responded to reports of another altercation involving King and attempted to question him. He continued his ‘aggressive behavior’ without answering police questions, according to court documents.
Police put him in the back seat of their patrol car where he yelled insults and insults against Koreans, the Korean army and the Korean police, the ruling said.
During his tirade, he kicked the car door several times, causing about 584,000 won ($461) in damage, the ruling said.
The court said the defendant admitted the charge, had no previous criminal record, and pleaded guilty at the sentencing to pay 1 million won ($790) to fix the car.