There has been no word from North Korea about the US soldier who fled across the border

  • US ‘intensely engaged’ in ensuring King’s safety – ambassador
  • On his way back to the US, he faced private disciplinary action
  • Sweden became involved as a diplomatic channel
  • North Korea not responding – US official

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) – North Korea remained silent on Thursday over a U.S. soldier who broke away from a tour group and crossed the heavily guarded border two days earlier, plunging Washington into a new diplomatic entanglement in an already tense situation. Military position.

Private Travis D. U.S. officials said Pyongyang did not respond to communications from the U.S. military about the soldier, named King. North Korea’s state media, which has reported on the detention of American citizens in the past, has yet to comment on the incident.

Speaking in Japan, the US special envoy to North Korea, Chung Kim, said the US was “working very hard” to determine King’s status and well-being and was actively involved in ensuring his safety and return. Kim did not disclose any details.

Earlier, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told a briefing that the Pentagon had “reached out” to North Korea’s counterparts in the Korean People’s Army about King.

“My understanding is that those communications have not yet been responded to,” he added.

The incident took place amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The recent arrival of a US nuclear-armed missile submarine in the South for the first time since the 1980s has brought the North under pressure with ballistic missile tests.

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Last week, the North launched its new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, which it said had the longest flight time, a “significant” success experts described.

The 23-year-old King was on a public tour of the Panmunjom truce village on Tuesday when he suddenly crossed the military demarcation line that has separated the two Koreas since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

King was fined for the assault during a stay in South Korea and was detained before being taken to the airport to board an American Airlines flight to Dallas, Texas on Monday, according to a media report and an airport official.

At the departure gate after going through security checks, he told flight staff he had lost his passport and returned to the terminal, an airport official told Reuters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

On Tuesday, King was with a group of about 40 people on a full-day tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) operated by South Korean company HanaTour ITC.

A chaotic scene unfolds at the border

In disturbing scenes, King drew a line between the blue buildings across the border, a witness on the same tour said.

“Someone ran by me really fast and I thought, ‘What’s going on,'” Sarah Leslie, from New Zealand, told Reuters. “I didn’t think anyone would really want to go to North Korea, so I assumed it was some kind of stunt.”

The US government made little progress in determining the soldier’s fate.

State Department spokesman Miller said Sweden is involved because it acts as a diplomatic channel for Washington, which is technically at war with North Korea.

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“We are still trying to gather information here about the whereabouts of Taniar Raja,” he said. “The administration continues to work diligently to ensure his safety and return him to his family.”

A US official told Reuters that repeated attempts by the US to contact North Korea through Sweden had received no response.

“They are not responding,” the officer said.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told a briefing that the Biden administration was still gathering the facts.

South Korea’s defense ministry said it was in contact with the United Nations command overseeing the JSA, but did not comment further.

North Korea has previously detained and interrogated Americans who entered the country, but eventually released them, often following high-level diplomatic intervention. But incidents involving US servicemen are rare.

In one unexplained case, an American college student, Otto Warmbier, was detained for more than a year, returned to the United States in a coma, and died a few days later.

A former North Korean diplomat who returned to South Korea said King could be used as a propaganda tool, but it was unclear how long North Korea wanted to exploit his presence.

Reporting by Ju-min Park, Josh Smith, Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul, Sakura Murakami in Tokyo, Phil Smith, Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Written by Jack Kim; Editing by Ed Davis and Lincoln Feast

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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