US soldier at home after North Korea releases him


US soldier Travis King has returned to the US after being released by North Korea, a Defense Department official said on Thursday.

“I can confirm that he landed in the US,” the official told AFP, without giving further details.

An American official said earlier that King would be taken to Brooke Army Hospital in Texas as soon as he arrived in the US, the same place where American basketball star Brittney Griner was evaluated after she was released by Russia.

King himself crossed the border into North Korea in July.

He was to be flown back to Texas for a disciplinary hearing after a bar fight, an incident with the police and prison time in South Korea, where he was stationed. Instead of traveling back to Fort Bliss, however, he snuck away, joined a tour group in the demilitarized zone and crossed the border.

North and South Korea are still technically at war after the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. Years later, a so-called joint security area was established on the border of the two countries where soldiers from North and South Korea were deployed.

Last month, North Korean authorities confirmed they had King in custody and said King defected to that country to escape “mistreatment and racial discrimination in the US military”. However, after an investigation, North Korea “decided to deport Travis King – a soldier of the US Army who illegally entered the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, the Korean Central News Agency said on Wednesday.

It is not yet clear whether King will now face a disciplinary hearing in the US because he was absent without leave.

One of the last American citizens detained in North Korea was student Otto Warmbier. He was detained for a year and a half before he was handed over to the USA in a coma. He died six days later.

About half a dozen American soldiers defected to North Korea after the Korean War and were used for the country’s propaganda.