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North Korea claims soldier Travis King fled racism, mistreatment in US Army

U.S. Army Pvt. Travis King, who dashed into North Korea during a civilian tour last month, is seeking refuge due to “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” in the U.S. Army, North Korean state media claimed Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

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The statement marked the country’s first public acknowledgment that it had detained King after he crossed into the country during a civilian tour on July 18, Reuters reported.

A U.S. Defense Department official told The Associated Press that there was no way to verify North Korea’s comments about King. Authorities continue working to bring him back to the U.S.

The official Korean Central News Agency said that investigators have determined that King crossed into the country deliberately and illegally in hopes of staying there or in another country, Reuters reported.

“During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” KCNA said, using the North’s official name — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society.”

Soo Kim, an expert with the consulting group LMI and former CIA analyst, called the announcement “100% North Korean propaganda,” according to the AP.

“King, as an American citizen held in North Korea, has no sway in how (North Korea) chooses to cast its narrative,” she said.

“As for King’s release, his fate rests in North Korea’s hands. Perhaps the regime will try to ‘bargain’ King’s life in exchange for financial concessions from the U.S. More than likely, negotiations won’t be easy, and terms will be dictated by Pyongyang.”

In a statement, King’s family said his mother, Claudine Gates, was aware of the announcement from KCNA and she appealed to North Korean officials “to treat him humanely,” the AP and Reuters reported.

“She’s a mom worried about her son and would be grateful for a phone call from him,” family spokesman Jonathan Franks said in the statement. “Lastly, she has been in touch with the Army this evening and appreciates a (Defense Department) statement that it remains focused on bringing Travis home.”

Authorities said officials escorted King to an airport last month for a flight back home to the U.S. Instead of getting on his flight, King joined a tour of the Joint Security Area between South and North Korea and crossed into the latter country.

King had been slated to return to the U.S. after he spent nearly two months in a South Korean jail for assault, Bloomberg News reported. He had pleaded guilty to damaging a police car during a profanity-filled tirade against Koreans, according to Reuters.

He was expected to face further disciplinary action in the U.S., including possible expulsion from the Army, Bloomberg News reported.

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