The Korea Herald


UN Command in talks with NK over detained US soldier

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : July 24, 2023 - 18:19

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This photo, released by the UN Command, shows the command's This photo, released by the UN Command, shows the command's "pink phone" at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom, which serves as a direct communication line with the North Korean military. (Yonhap)

The UN Command has initiated a dialogue with its North Korean counterpart concerning the American soldier Travis King, who crossed the inter-Korean border on July 18 and is in the custody of North Korean authorities, the deputy commander of the UN Command said Monday.

"A conversation has commenced with the Korean People's Army through the mechanism of the armistice agreement," Lt. Gen. Andrew Harrison, the deputy commander of the UN Command, told foreign media outlets in Seoul.

Harrison said the dialogue is being conducted through communication lines set up at the Joint Security Area, referring to the use of a pink-colored telephone installed at the UN Command's location in the truce village of Panmunjom, Gyeonggi Province.

The telephone line serves as a direct communication link between the liaison officers from the UN Command on the South Korean side of Panmunjom and Panmungak Hall on the North Korean side.

Both sides communicate with each other daily using the hotlines, mostly to handle routine business, with their offices located at a distance of only 40 meters apart.

But there have been "no significant breakthroughs or rapid developments in the matter," The Korea Herald learned.

Travis King -- a private second class since 2021 -- ran across the inter-Korean border in the JSA when he was visiting the area as part of a tour group last week. He has remained in the North's custody since.

The JSA straddles the military demarcation line, which consists of a narrow concrete boundary that acts as the dividing line between South Korea and North Korea.

"The primary concern for us is for Private King's welfare," Harrison said, declining to share further details, citing the very delicate nature of these negotiations as the main reason.

Harrison explained that the negotiation involves the safety and welfare of the individual detained in North Korea, expressing concerns that unnecessary speculation could jeopardize the individual's well-being.

"I won't and I can't say anything that could prejudice that process."

Originally, King was scheduled to be sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, to face disciplinary action. The US service member was escorted to the customs checkpoint at Incheon Airport, but then managed to elude authorities and left the terminal. Subsequently, he joined the JSA tour on July 18.

Harrison said the entire case, including details on how King managed to join the JSA tour, is "still under investigation."