An American soldier who crossed into North Korea by sprinting across the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas two months ago has appeared to have returned to the U.S., according to a video. Pvt. Travis King’s release was facilitated with assistance from Sweden and China, said the White House. In the video, King was observed disembarking from a plane in San Antonio, Texas, wearing civilian clothes. He briefly interacted with people waiting on the tarmac, shook hands with one person, and was then led into a building.
North Korea unexpectedly announced on Wednesday that it would deport King. The reasons behind North Korea’s decision to turn him over, as well as King’s motivation for fleeing in the first place, remain unclear. The country has tense relations with Washington due to issues such as its nuclear program, support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and other matters.
King, who had been stationed in South Korea, entered North Korea while on a civilian tour of a border village on July 18. This made him the first confirmed case of an American being detained in North Korea in nearly five years. At the time, King was supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, after his release from prison in South Korea, where he had been convicted of assault.
However, his release does not necessarily mean the end of his troubles. King is considered absent without leave (AWOL) from the Army, a status that can result in punishment such as military detention, forfeiture of pay, or a dishonorable discharge.
On Wednesday, Swedish officials accompanied King to the Chinese border, where he was met by the U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, the Swedish ambassador to China, and at least one U.S. Defense Department official. The Biden administration officials insisted that no concessions were made to North Korea to secure the soldier’s release.
King was flown to a U.S. military base in South Korea before being returned to the U.S.