The mother of the American soldier who illegally crossed into North Korea said she was “shocked” and just wanted him to return home.
Private 2nd Class Travis King, who is in his early 20s, crossed the heavily fortified inter-Korean border to enter North Korea where he is believed to be detained. The incident has threatened a new diplomatic row and a crisis with the nuclear-armed state.
“I can’t see Travis doing anything like that,” Ms Gates said, adding that she was taken aback when she was told her son had crossed into North Korea.
She said she received the information that Mr King was being held up in North Korea on Tuesday morning, days after her son told her he would return to his base in Fort Bliss, Texas, soon.
She said she just wants “him to come home”.
He became the first American to be detained in North Korea in nearly five years after crossing the heavily fortified de-militarised zone (DMZ) that separates the country from South Korea.
The illegal crossing by a US soldier has come at a time of renewed and intensified tensions with North Korea under the leadership of Kim Jong-un who ramped up his fiery rhetoric against Washington amid the country’s record missile testing spree.
North Korea has launched its banned intercontinental ballistic missiles in recent days, flexing its military muscle with its weapon which are capable of delivering nuclear warheads in American cities.
Mr King, who joined the army in 2021, was supposed to return to his base in Texas to face additional military disciplinary action after completing almost two months in a South Korean jail on assault charges, US officials said.
Following his release on 10 July he was transported to the airport by the US army and had passed through the security gates, being escorted as far as customs.
But Mr King did not board the plane and fled to join a civilian tour of the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea.
During some time at the tour, he left the tour group behind and he reportedly let out a loud laugh as he ran away.
The UN Command in a statement said: “A US National on a JSA (Joint Security Area) orientation tour crossed, without authorisation, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”
Authorities said that “we are working with KPA (North Korean army) counterparts to resolve this incident”.
On Wednesday, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles from its capital Pyongyang into plunging into the sea off its east coast. Each missile flew 550km and 600km and the missiles landed outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
It appeared to be in response to the nuclear-armed submarine the US deployed in South Korean wasters for the first time in decades.