HomeLatestChances Dim for Swift Return of American From North Korea

Chances Dim for Swift Return of American From North Korea

Any hope of a speedy return of the American soldier who illegally crossed into North Korea earlier this week seems all however dashed by the silence from the hermit state on the whereabouts of Pvt. Travis King.

“We have channels of communication. We’ve used them,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned Friday on the Aspen Security Forum, explaining that Washington has been making an attempt to determine dialogue with North Korea because the early days of the administration.

“Here’s the response we got: One missile launch after another,” he mentioned.

As Washington awaits response to outreach by way of United Nations channels and its middleman, Sweden, investigations are underway on the U.S. Army and United Nations Command, or UNC, ranges to find out how a soldier who was purported to be on a flight to the United States to face disciplinary measures as a substitute emerged on the border of the 2 Koreas.

Counterintelligence personnel are main the military probe in coordination with the U.S. army in South Korea, the Pentagon mentioned Thursday, noting that King’s standing is AWOL (absent with out depart), or away with out permission, for now.

The UNC, the U.S.-led multinational power managing the Joint Security Area, or JSA, by way of which King bolted, is finding out the occasions of July 18 to “determine what policies or procedures are required to minimize risk to visitors in the JSA,” UNC Public Affairs Director Colonel Isaac Taylor instructed VOA.

July 18

On a day {that a} U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine made a uncommon port name to South Korea to coincide with the launch of the U.S.-South Korea Nuclear Consultative Group, Pvt. King, 23, was in civilian garb taking in a DMZ tour that included a cease on the JSA.

The Joint Security Area is iconified by vibrant blue buildings that stand on the Military Demarcation Line, the official border that divides North and South Korea, in place for 70 years since an armistice put a pause to the Korean War.

The compound is a well-liked vacationer vacation spot, with bookings typically offered out for months, providing the novelty of standing “inside North Korea” inside one of many assembly buildings. A tour of the JSA requires submission of further paperwork days upfront, together with a passport.

King, who was anticipated at his base in Fort Bliss, Texas, the place he confronted pending administrative separation from the Army for misdemeanors dedicated throughout his South Korea deployment, as a substitute bolted into the North Korean facet of the border complicated about 3:30 p.m. native time.

He was laughing as he ran, eyewitnesses who had been a part of the identical tour group mentioned. The military personal was final seen shifting to the again of a North Korean constructing, then being pushed away inside a van by North Korean troopers, based on a report that cited a Defense Department report on the unlawful crossing.

Tourists stand close to a border station at Panmunjom within the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea, July 18, 2023. Not lengthy after this photograph was taken, Travis King, a U.S. soldier, fourth left, in darkish blue shirt, bolted throughout the border.

His motive for such a puzzling and harmful choice stays unknown, as are his whereabouts between checking in for his Dallas-bound flight at Incheon International Airport on Monday and his JSA tour that left from Seoul the next day.

King had served time in a civilian jail in South Korea on assault expenses up till every week earlier than his scheduled flight to Texas, and he was dealing with potential further repercussions at his base in Fort Bliss.

In interviews with news shops, his household expressed shock, his mom recalling she’d heard from him a number of days prior and could not see him doing something like that.

“I just want my son back. I just want my son back,” Claudine Gates instructed reporters exterior her dwelling. “Get my son home and pray, pray that he comes back.’

Rare bolt

King’s dash through the JSA is highly unusual, with few precedents.

While over the decades there have been U.S. soldiers who defected through the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ – the 160-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide buffer running across the Korean peninsula of which the Joint Security Area is a part – this is the first time any person successfully disappeared into North Korea from the South while on a JSA tour.

There was one such attempt in 2001 by a German doctor-turned-activist, Norbert Vollertsen, according to the assistant secretary of the Military Armistice Commission at the time, Stephen M. Tharp.

Vollertsen was caught by armed guards before skipping over the low concrete blocks that mark the border, the retired lieutenant colonel said. His stated purpose was to start an incident to bring North Korea’s human rights plight to the world’s attention.

King’s run also comes as firearms and guard posts were removed at the compound in 2018 amid a detente mood between the two Koreas during the previous administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

North Korean troops had been stationed outside at the JSA just like their South Korean counterparts, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed that. The North Korean government issued border lockdowns and stringent COVID-19 rules, so when North Koreans were spotted at the JSA during the pandemic, they were in Hazmat suits.

In November 2017, a North Korean soldier dodged a shower of live fire rounds by his compatriots, running for his life through the JSA in a bold defection attempt. By the time he got to the south side, he was wounded but alive.

Now, with COVID-19 restrictions and other fears at play, King could be looking at a more complicated processing reality, analysts say, such as weeks of quarantine before questioning by North Korean guards even begins.

Amid escalating tensions

While North Korea has yet to speak on King’s status, it did issue a warning this week against the presence of the USS Kentucky nuclear submarine parked in Busan, South Korea, presumably holding 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“The U.S. army facet ought to notice that its nuclear belongings have entered extraordinarily harmful waters,” North Korea’s protection minister, Kang Sun Nam, mentioned late Thursday through state media KCNA, hours earlier than the submarine would depart.

A TV screen shows a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, July 22, 2023. A TV screen shows a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, July 22, 2023.

North Korea Fires Cruise Missiles, Says South Korean Military

Kang said the deployment of such strategic assets could trigger North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons, as codified in its nuclear force policy, if “it’s judged that using nuclear weapons in opposition to it’s imminent.”

The nuclear weapon trigger warning is mostly being taken in stride in Seoul, with some analysts saying it shows a North Korea under duress. Pyongyang knows full well a first-use case will almost certainly mean a mutual wipe-out, they say.

Still, a war on the Korean peninsula is a scenario the U.S., Japan and South Korea must be ready for together, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said in an interview published Saturday.

“I believe that the Korean state of affairs is an space that the United States might – I’m not saying it’s going to, however might – discover itself in a state of warfare, you realize, inside a number of days, with little or no discover,” Milley mentioned, based on the Nikkei news group based mostly in Japan.

For now, North Korea could have its arms full subsequent week, partially, because it gears up for a second huge army parade of the 12 months to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Korean War armistice signing on July 27, which Pyongyang claims as its Victory Day.

Remembrances deliberate on the JSA on the South Korea facet, nonetheless, have been canceled because the UNC conducts its investigation.