U.S. citizen enters North Korea and is presumably detained

On Tuesday, the United Nations Command that oversees the demilitarized zone area at the border reported that a U.S. citizen crossed the inter-Korean border into North Korea without authorization while on a tour and is presumably in North Korean custody.

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The individual was participating in a tour of the Joint Security Area along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas since the conclusion of the 1950-1953 Korean War, where soldiers on both sides stand guard.

The South Korean newspaper Dong-a Ilbo, citing the South Korean army, identified the individual as Travis King, a private second class in the United States army. The newspaper subsequently removed the name.

Reuters was unable to promptly determine the individual’s identity.

“A U.S. citizen on a JSA orientation tour crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) without authorization,” the U.N. Command (UNC) tweeted.

“We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” the statement continued.

According to Donga and Chosun Ilbo daily newspapers, citing South Korean army sources, the man was with a group of visitors, including civilians, to the Panmunjom truce village when he abruptly crossed the brick line marking the border.

Colonel Isaac Taylor, spokesman for the U.S. military in South Korea (USFK) and the United Nations Command, refused to confirm whether the individual was a U.S. Army combatant or a member of USFK, stating that he had nothing to add to the UNC statement.

He told Reuters, “We are still conducting research into this incident and everything that transpired.”

The White House, the United States Department of State, and the Pentagon did not respond to requests for comment immediately.

The crossing occurs during a time of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, as a U.S. nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine makes a rare visit to South Korea to warn North Korea about its own military activities.

Last week, North Korea launched a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). These missiles are increasingly capable of transporting nuclear warheads.

The South Korean Ministry of Defense stated that it had no information about the border incident.

The U.S. State Department travel advisory prohibits American citizens from entering North Korea “due to the continuing risk of arrest and long-term detention.”

The ban was instituted after the 2015 arrest of American college student Otto Warmbier by North Korean authorities during a tour of the country. A few days after being released from North Korea and returned to the United States in a coma, he passed away in 2017.