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Soldier Returned to U.S. Custody After Crossing Into North Korea

Army Pvt. Travis T. King has been released to U.S. custody after a multiweek diplomatic effort to secure his return from North Korea, senior U.S. officials announced today.

Members of foreign military stand next to buildings.
Demilitarized Zone
South Korean soldiers guard the joint security area inside the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 23, 2023.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Almon J. Bate
VIRIN: 230622-A-UG630-7549Y

King, who crossed into North Korea on July 18, was received by U.S. officials after being transferred to China. King's return was facilitated with the help of the Swedish government.  

"U.S. officials have secured the return of [Army] Pvt. Travis King from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said using formal name for North Korea.  

"We appreciate the hard work of personnel in the Army, United States Forces Korea, and across the Department of Defense, along with our State Department colleagues, to bring Pvt. King back to the United States, and we thank the governments of Sweden and the People's Republic of China for their assistance," he said. 

National Security Council officials, who announced King's release as he was being transferred from China to a U.S. base, said the soldier would receive a full evaluation to address any medical or emotional concerns before being reunited with his family.  

The transfer culminates weeks of effort across multiple U.S. government agencies to secure his release.  

That effort included outreach to North Korea through multiple channels, including efforts to "ascertain his welfare and to try to secure his safe return home," a U.S. official said. 

Sweden served as the primary interlocutor between the U.S. and North Korea in securing King's release.  

"We are grateful to the Swedish government for its diplomatic role in serving as the protective power for the United States in [North Korea] and to the government of the People's Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating the safe transit of Pvt. King," the official said. 

The U.S. made no concessions to North Korea to secure King's release, according to the officials. 

King, a cavalry scout stationed in South Korea, crossed into North Korea after joining a tour group of the joint security area at the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom, South Korea. 

U.S. and foreign soldiers walk along a road next to buildings.
Demilitarized Zone
U.S. and South Korean soldiers walk along a road at the joint security area inside the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 23, 2023.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Almon J. Bate
VIRIN: 230623-A-UG630-9492Y

He was later identified as AWOL by the U.S. government. 

Before crossing the border, King had faced disciplinary action while stationed in South Korea and had served time in a correctional facility.  

At the time of his crossing, he was scheduled to fly to the U.S. to face additional administrative action by the U.S. Army.

Officials said King's administrative status would be addressed following his successful reintegration. 

"Our focus within the military at this point is really caring for Pvt. King and his family," a senior official said. 

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