North Korea said on Wednesday that Pvt. Travis T. King, the American soldier who fled across the inter-Korean border into its territory on July 18, wanted to seek refuge in the isolated Communist country or a third country, according to a state media report.
The report by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency is the first time the North has commented on Private King’s case.
During an investigation by North Korean officials, Private King “confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feelings against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” the Korean Central News Agency said, using the abbreviation of the country’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Private King “admitted that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK,” saying that he did so because he “was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” the news agency said.
The report did not provide any further details about his fate, including his health condition or whether North Korea planned to accept him as a refugee or send him along to a third country.
The Pentagon has said that Private King crossed into the North “willfully and without authorization” after he dashed across the inter-Korean border while he was on a group tour of the Joint Security Area, or Panmunjom, which lies in the middle of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South.
A Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday that the Defense Department could not verify the comments that North Korea said had been made by Private King.
“We remain focused on his safe return,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Martin J. Meiners. “The department’s priority is to bring Private King home, and that we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome.”
Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.