North Korea has for the first “responded” to efforts by UN officials to discuss Travis King, the US Army private who recently dashed across the border during a guided tour of the demilitarized zone.
“KPA has responded to the United Nations Command with regards to PV2 King,” the United Nations Command said in a statement, using acronyms for the North Korean army and King’s rank as a private
“In order not to interfere with our efforts to get him home, we will not go into details at this time,” the multinational military force added.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the Hermit Kingdom only acknowledged the UN Command’s request for information about King but stopped short of offering details about him.
“I can confirm that the [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has responded to United Nations Command, but I don’t have any substantial progress to read out,” Ryder told reporters.
When pressed, he said Pyongyang’s short message was just “an acknowledgment” of the UN Command’s inquiry.
But the development “reads as a sign of North’s willingness to negotiate,” Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, told Agence France-Presse.
“They basically want some progress toward normalization with the US, in order to offset the disproportionally high dependency on the Chinese economy,” he told the wire service.
“So, a goodwill gesture may happen — although it is far from sure for now,” Tikhonov added.
The 23-year-old soldier — who served as a Cavalry Scout with the Korean Rotational Force — sprinted across the border with South Korea on July 18 while on a tour of the demilitarized zone.
The troubled private faced two allegations of assault in South Korea, eventually pleading guilty to one case of assault and destroying public property for damaging a coop car during a profanity-laced tirade.
King served a sentence of hard labor at the Cheonan correctional facility from May 24 to July 10 in lieu of paying a fine, according to the Yonhap news service.
He then stayed at an American base in South Korea for a week, Yonhap reported.
US officials said he had been due to face military disciplinary action on his return home to Fort Bliss, Texas.
King’s family has begged American officials to “fight” for his safe return.
“When he went to the Army to fight for America, America should fight for him, fight for him to come home,” his uncle Myron Gates said last month.
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