According to multiple media sources a US solider has crossed the demilitarized zone that separates the Republic of Korea (South Korea) from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).
The incident which echoes the defection of a number of US servicemen who “crossed the line” in the 1960’s has thus captured the world imagination. So why has this US solider defect (allegedly) and what do we know so far?
US Soldier Defects – What do we know so far?
According to mainstream media, the soldier, Private 2nd Class Travis King was facing disciplinary measures from the US Army and was being flown from Seoul back to the US. The story goes that he had passed through airport security, but somehow managed to get back out.
From here he returned to Seoul and joined a DMZ tour run ironically by the US military. And whilst on the tour he quite literally, according to eyewitnesses started “laughing loudly” and ran between the buildings separating the two countries.
One eyewitness reported thinking it was a joke until Mr Travis King simply did not return.
Where is the US Soldier now?
It is believed that he is currently being held and indeed questioned by the Korean People’s Army (KPA), with the United Nations Command, which operates the Demilitarized Zone and joint security area (JSA) stating they were in contact with the KPA in order to “resolve” the matter.
You can read about the KPA here.
Quite what resolution will happen is unknown, but there would seem to be only two possible scenarios, the first being him being returned to US custody and the second being him becoming the latest in a long line of American military defectors to North Korea.
To read about the DMZ click here.
US Soldier Defections – A Timeline
The relative trend of defections began in 1962 when Larry Allen Abshier crossed the line to be followed by James Dresnok, Jerry Wayne Parrish and Charles Jenkins. Much has been written and said about the four men, with the excellent documentary “Crossing There Line” bering well worth a look.
Of the four James Dresnok was the most fully integrated into North Korean life, even having three sons, one of whom I was lucky enough to meet at Kwanbok Supermarket many years ago.
To read about Kwangbok Supermarket click here.
The fifth of the now seven deserters was Roy Chung who in 1979 allegedly deserted via East Germany only to resurface in the DPRK months later. It was later reported that he had died of natural causes, although this has never been fully verified.
This though is the first such incident since 1982 when James T White crossed into the DPRK. He later died in 1985, officially from drowning in the Chongchon River, although a body was never recovered.
In 2014 Mathew Tod Miller ripped up his visa and allegedly asked for asylum in the country, an act which was not only denied, but landed Miller in prison under a negotiated exit for him was arranged.
It is of course unknown what the fate of this soldier will be, but quite ironically since the ban on US citizens visiting the country, he is the first such American (that we know of) in North Korea since President Donald J Trump crossed the border at Panmunjom to shake hands with Marshall Kim Jong-Un in what almost now appears like a bygone era.
One thing we can be sure of though is that one of the first things he is likely to get is a Covid-19 test. Despite the reopening of the rest of the world, the DPRK has largely doubled down on its own zero-covid policy and still remains closed to both inbound tourism, as well as business visitors.
Alas whilst North Korea might not yet be open yet for tourism, the day shall come and YPT of course will be there.
You can read our North Korean tours here.