The United Nations Command has begun to discuss the case of Army Private Travis King with North Korea after officials said the U.S. soldier intentionally crossed into the country last week, according to multiple reports.
Lt. Gen. Andrew Harrison, the British deputy commander of the U.S.-led U.N. Command, told reporters on Monday that officials had begun a conversation with the North Korean People’s Army, according to Bloomberg News and The Washington Post. The discussion was launched through the terms of the cease-fire agreement that halted fighting in the Korean War in 1953.
“The first primary concern is Private King’s welfare,” Harrison said. “None of us know where this is going to end, so I am remaining optimistic, but I will leave that for now.”
Last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said King crossed the military demarcation line between North and South Korea “willfully and without authorization” on Tuesday. Family members told The Associated Press that he might have felt overwhelmed as he faced a possible discharge from the Army.
“I can’t see him doing that intentionally if he was in his right mind,” King’s grandfather, Carl Gates, told the AP. “Travis is a good guy. He wouldn’t do nothing to hurt nobody. And I can’t see him trying to hurt himself.”
King had served nearly two months in detention in South Korea for assault and destroying public property, Reuters reported. He was expected to face further administrative action from the Army after his return to the U.S.
Officials had escorted King to an airport for a flight back home before he made his dash into North Korea, authorities said. He skipped the flight and instead joined a tour of the Panmunjom truce village, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said last week.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated that he was going to leave the airport,” she said. She added, “Our biggest concern about Private King is that we want to bring him home.”
Since the end of fighting in the Korean War, about 20 other Americans have been detained by Pyongyang, according to Bloomberg News. Unlike in many of those cases, North Korea’s state media has not commented on King’s detention, Reuters reported.