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A US Soldier Escaped to North Korea

A US soldier under disciplinary action has fled to North Korea across the border with South Korea, Reuters reported, citing US officials.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed concern about the soldier, who the US military in Korea said joined an orientation tour of the North-South Joint Security Area and "deliberately and without authorization crossed the military demarcation line into the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)".

The US Army has identified the soldier as Private Second Class Travis T. King, who spent nearly two months in a South Korean prison, the Associated Press reported. He was arrested on assault charges and released on July 10 after serving his sentence. On Monday, he was to be sent home to Fort Bliss, Texas, to face additional military disciplinary action and be dismissed from service.

According to officials, King, 23, was taken to the airport and escorted to customs. But instead of boarding the plane, he left the airport and later joined a tour of the Korean border village of Panmunjom. Yesterday afternoon local time in Korea, he crossed the border, which is guarded, but also often crowded with tourists. It is not yet clear how King got to the border and how he spent the hours between leaving the airport on Monday and crossing the border a day later.

"There's a lot we're still trying to learn," Austin said at a media briefing. "We believe he is in (North Korean) custody and therefore we are closely monitoring and investigating the situation and working to notify the soldier's next of kin," he added.

The border crossing comes at a time of high tension on the Korean peninsula with the arrival of a US nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for an unusual visit aimed at sending a warning to North Korea about its own military activities, Reuters said.

North Korea has been testing increasingly powerful missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, including a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile launched last week. It fired another ballistic missile into the sea near Japan on Tuesday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing the country's armed forces.

Col. Isaac Taylor, a spokesman for US Forces Korea, said the military was "working with our KPA colleagues to resolve this incident," referring to the North Korean People's Army.

White House spokeswomanKarine Jean-Pierre said US officials at the Pentagon, the State Department and the United Nations were working to "obtain more information and resolve this situation."

"We are in the initial stage," she said, adding that the most important thing is to find out what the soldier's condition is.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment, noted Reuters, quoted by BTA.

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