Travis King in U.S. custody after expulsion by N. Korea: Washington official

U.S. soldier Pvt. Travis King ran across the border into North Korea while on a tour of the Joint Security Area from Panmunjom, South Korea. File Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- An American soldier who crossed the inter-Korean border into North Korea in July is in U.S. custody after being released by the reclusive regime, a senior U.S. administration official said Wednesday.

The announcement on the release of Pvt. Travis King came shortly after North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Pyongyang decided to "expel" him following a probe during which the outlet said he confessed to having "illegally intruded" into the North's territory.

King crossed the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas during a tour to the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone on July 18.

"I can immediately confirm that Private Travis King is in U.S. custody," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The KCNA said the North Korean authorities conducted an investigation, where he said he had "ill feeling" about the U.S. military and society.

"Travis King confessed that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society," the KCNA said in its English-language report. DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"The relevant organ of the DPRK decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the U.S. Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic," it added.

The North confirmed King's detention for the first time on Aug. 16 and claimed the U.S. soldier expressed willingness to seek refuge in the North or a third country.

Shortly after the North's first confirmation of King's detention, the U.S. Department of Defense said the alleged comments by King cannot be verified and that it is focused on bringing him back home.

Observers have said Pyongyang could seek to use King for its propaganda efforts or as a bargaining chip to demand concessions from Washington as dialogue between the two sides has remained at a standstill since 2019.

King has faced legal trouble after being stationed in South Korea. He was detained in a South Korean prison workshop from May 24 to July 10 after failing to pay a fine for damaging a police patrol car last year.

On Oct. 8, South Korean police apprehended King for suspected violence at a nightclub in western Seoul. He reportedly did not cooperate with police officers demanding his personal information and kicked the door of their vehicle.

King had been set to return to the United States on July 17, where he could have faced additional disciplinary action, but he did not board his flight at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, and took part in the JSA tour the next day.