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Travis King arrives at US army base after release from N. Korea

US army Private Travis King ran into North Korea from the South on July 18 while on a civilian tour of the heavily fortified border. (AP pic)

SAN ANTONIO: Private Travis King landed at a US military base in Texas earlier today after being expelled from North Korea following his surprise dash across the heavily-militarised border two months ago, CNN reported.

King arrived on a US military flight, landing at Kelly Field at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, CNN cited a US defence department official as saying. Television footage showed a group of people leaving a plane at the base.

King is expected to undergo a medical review at Brooke Army Medical Center, a hospital at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Basketball star Brittney Griner was treated there in December after a prisoner swap with Russia ended her 10 months in Russian detention.

The US government has said that upon his return, King will first undergo evaluation and then a reintegration process so he can be reunited with his family. King, 23, ran into North Korea from the South on July 18 while on a civilian tour of the heavily fortified border and was immediately taken into North Korean custody.

It is unclear if King would face disciplinary action by the US army, which has treated his case with care. The army so far has not called him a deserter, even though he crossed the border without authorisation while on active duty.

For its part, North Korea appears to have treated his case as one of illegal immigration.

North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said King told Pyongyang he entered North Korea illegally because he was “disillusioned about unequal US society.”

The Swedish government, which represents US interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic presence in the country, retrieved King in North Korea and brought him to China.

The state department said the US ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, met King in Dandong, China, a city bordering North Korea. King then flew from there to Shenyang, China, then to the Osan Air Base in South Korea, before continuing his voyage back to the US.

King, who joined the US army in January 2021, faced two allegations of assault in South Korea. He pleaded guilty to one instance of assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car during a profanity-laced tirade against Koreans, according to court documents.

He had been due to face more disciplinary measures when he arrived back in the US. In July, King had finished serving military detention and was at the airport awaiting US military transport to his home unit.

Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran into North Korea despite attempts by South Korean and American guards to stop him.