UN Command says in ‘conversation’ with N. Korea over US soldier

un command says in conversation with n korea over us soldier

The UN Command has started a conversation with Pyongyang over American soldier Travis King, who ran across the border into North Korea last week, its deputy commander said Monday.

“A conversation has commenced with the KPA through the mechanism of the armistice agreement,” Lieutenant General Andrew Harrison said at a press briefing, referring to North Korea’s military, the Korean People’s Army.

The UN Command is a US-led multinational force that oversees the Korean War truce. The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty.

“The primary concern for us is for Private King’s welfare,” Harrison said, adding that the incident was “still subject to investigation”.

Harrison said that, under the armistice agreement, there was a mechanism allowing the UN Command to communicate with the North’s military in the Joint Security Area (JSA).

“That process has started” but due to the “very delicate nature of these negotiations” he said he would not go into further detail.

“Obviously there is someone’s welfare at stake and clearly we are in a very difficult and complex situation which I don’t want to risk by speculation or going into too much detail about the communications that have existed.”

The United States does not have formal diplomatic ties with the North and, since North Korea closed its borders at the start of the pandemic, most embassies with a presence in Pyongyang have withdrawn their foreign diplomats.

North Korea has not commented publicly on King.

JSA tour

Private Second Class King was being escorted to Seoul’s airport last week and was due to fly to Texas after a drunken bar brawl, an altercation with police and a stint in South Korean jail.

But instead of getting on the plane to face disciplinary hearings at Fort Bliss, King slipped away, joined a tourist tour of the Demilitarised Zone and fled across the border. He is now believed to be in North Korean custody.

Most of the border between the two Koreas is heavily fortified. But at the JSA, the frontier is marked only by a low concrete divider and is relatively easy to cross, despite soldiers on both sides.

The JSA has been closed to tourists since King’s border crossing, and it will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future, Harrison said.

But since the area has an educational value, the decision may be reviewed in future, he said, adding “it’s a constant balance between that value and the risk to the individuals who are in the demilitarised zone”.

“It can never simply be a tourist destination, primarily because of the huge amount of ordnance that still exists across the demilitarised zone since the end of the war,” he said.

When asked whether King had been classified as a defector by either side, Harrison said the UN Command “haven’t categorised Private King as anything but an American soldier”, and added that he would never speak on behalf of North Korea.

‘Bargaining chips’

Pyongyang has a long history of detaining Americans and using them as bargaining chips in bilateral negotiations.

The incident comes as relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points, with diplomacy stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for increased weapons development, including tactical nuclear warheads.

Seoul and Washington have ramped up defence cooperation in response, staging joint military exercises with advanced stealth jets and US strategic assets.

Washington sent a nuclear-capable submarine on a port call to South Korea last week, prompting heavy criticism from the North, which claimed it could meet the legal conditions under which Pyongyang would use its nuclear weapons.

Authored by Afp via Breitbart July 23rd 2023