A South Korean building complex is seen in the background as North Korean soldiers guard the truce village in the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas – Dita Alangkara/AP

An American detained after crossing the border from South Korea into North Korea is a US soldier, officials have said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the United Nations Command overseeing the demilitarised zone area at the border identified the individual as a US national who had crossed into the North without authorisation while on a tour.

It said the person was likely to be in custody, but offered no other details.

South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo daily, citing the South Korean army, identified the person as Travis King, a US army soldier with the rank of private second class. The newspaper later deleted the name. The Telegraph could not immediately confirm the identity of the person.

The crossing comes at a sensitive time amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula, with the arrival of a US nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for a rare visit in a warning to North Korea over its own military activities.

North Korea has been testing increasingly powerful missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, including a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, which was launched last week.

North Korea has been testing increasingly powerful missiles

North Korea has been testing increasingly powerful missiles – KCNA via KNS

Two US officials told Reuters that a US soldier had crossed into North Korea. One said the soldier was believed to be in custody.

The person was taking part in a tour to the Joint Security Area on the demilitarised zone border that has separated the two Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Soldiers from both sides of the divide stand guard.

“A US National on a JSA orientation tour crossed, without authorisation, the military demarcation line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the UN Command said on Twitter.

“We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” it added, referring to North Korea’s People’s Army.

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

Colonel Isaac Taylor, a spokesman for the US military in South Korea (USFK) and the UN Command, declined to confirm whether the individual was a US Army soldier or a member of USFK, saying he had nothing to add to the UN Command statement.

“We’re still doing some research into this and everything that happened,” he told Reuters.

The White House, the US State Department and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. South Korea’s Defence Ministry said it did not immediately have any information on the incident.

The US State Department tells US nationals not to enter North Korea “due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of US nationals”.

The ban was implemented after Otto Warmbier, a US college student, was detained by North Korean authorities while on a tour of the country in 2015. He died in 2017, days after being released from North Korea and returned to the United States in a coma.

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