A United States soldier crossed into North Korea “willfully and without authorization,” Tuesday resulting in his arrest and custody by the country’s forces.
According to reports, the United Nations Command (UNC), which operates the Joint Security Area (JSA) within the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, confirmed that an unidentified American national had crossed the border.
Private Travis King was released from military detention in South Korea and transferred out of the country for disciplinary reasons. Upon going through airport security, King returned and joined a border tour group before crossing into North Korea.
A “U.S. National on a JSA orientation tour crossed, without authorization, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the U.N. Command said in a statement. ”We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and is working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident.”
Local South Korea media said King was visiting the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom with a civilian tour group and crossed the border at 2:27 a.m. Eastern.
A witness, who said he was part of the tour group that King traveled with, told CBS News the group had visited one of the buildings at the site when King gave a loud “ha ha ha,” running in between some buildings.”
“I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted, and things got crazy,” the individual told CBS News.
North Korean soldiers were not visible where King ran, according to this account.
Following his crossing into North Korea, the tour group raced back to the Freedom House for everyone to provide their statements.
“I’m telling you this because it actually hit me quite hard,” the witness told CBS News. “It was on the way back in the bus, and we got to one of the checkpoints. Someone said we were 43 going in and 42 coming back.”
The demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the globe, with the two nations remaining at war, as the fighting in the Korean War at the start of the Cold War ended with an armistice agreement.
North Korea continues to grow its military capabilities, creating alliances with China, Russia, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela to avoid economic sanctions and supply members of the Kim Jong Un regime.
The U.S. has maintained a troop presence in South Korea, monitoring North Korean nuclear missile tests. Officials expect North Korea to carry out more nuclear weapons tests soon which could escalate tensions.