Seoul, Gun battles, high-speed car crashes, sprints through minefields: defections across the Demilitarised Zone separating North and South Korea are dangerous and exceptionally rare. But one US soldier managed to cross this week.
Most of the border between the two Koreas is heavily fortified. But at the truce village of Panmunjom — also known as the Joint Security Area (JSA) — the frontier is marked only by a low concrete divider and is relatively easy to cross, despite soldiers on both sides.
– US soldier –
Private second class Travis King was on a tourist trip to the DMZ when — shouting “ha ha ha”, according to an eyewitness — he ran off and crossed the border into North Korea “willfully and without authorisation”, US officials said.
A Seoul official and police told AFP that King had been released from South Korean prison on July 10, after serving around two months on assault charges.
The Yonhap news agency reported he was also suspected of “repeatedly kicking a back door of a police patrol vehicle in Seoul’s Mapo district” in October last year and shouted “foul language” at police trying to apprehend him.
He was also suspected of punching a Korean national at a nightclub in September, it added.
CBS News, citing US officials, reported that the low-ranking soldier was being escorted home to the United States for disciplinary reasons, but managed to leave the airport and join the tour group.
The United Nations Command said he was believed to be in North Korean custody and that it was working with Pyongyang’s military to “resolve this incident”.