(LEAD) N. Korea says U.S. Pvt. Travis King expresses wish to seek refuge: KCNA

North Korea on Wednesday said a U.S. soldier who crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into the country last month admitted that he “illegally intruded” due to “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” claiming that he expressed a willingness to seek refuge there or in a third country.

It marked the North’s first confirmation of the status of Pvt. Travis King, who crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) into the North during a tour to the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the DMZ on July 18.

“Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English-language report.

DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” it added.

The KCNA said its soldiers took custody of King after he “deliberately intruded” into the North’s side of the JSA and that the investigation by a “relevant organ” is ongoing.

U.S. officials have said King “willfully” crossed the MDL “without authorization” during the group tour and that the North has not made any substantive response to its inquiries over his status.

The U.S.-led U.N. Command, which oversees activities in the DMZ, has said it is working with its North Korean counterparts to resolve the incident but has declined to provide details.

King has faced legal trouble after being stationed in South Korea, being detained in a prison workshop for 48 days earlier this year after failing to pay a fine on charges of inflicting damage on a police patrol car.

He had been set to be sent home on July 17, where he could have faced additional disciplinary action, but he did not board his flight and took part in the JSA tour the next day.

The incident came as tensions have run high due to North Korea’s continued weapons tests, including a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile launch last month.

Source: Yonhap News Agency