“There is a mechanism that exists under the armistice agreement whereby lines of communication are open between the United Nations Command and the KPA (Korean People’s Army),” he said, referring to the Korean Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953. “That takes place in the Joint Security Area (JSA).”
Pvt. Travis King was participating in a tour of the joint security area, an area within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that is used for diplomatic engagements, when he “willfully” crossed into North Korea, according to the U.S. Armed Forces in South Korea.
Tours of the JSA, which has become a popular tourist site, are now suspended, Harrison said.
News of the crossing, which was not authorized by the U.S., came on July 18. King had been on a tour of the border village Panmunjom when he was supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, following his release from prison in South Korea on an assault conviction, the Associated Press reported.
Harrison didn’t give specifics on the state of King or how receptive North Korea has been to talks given the sensitive nature of the discussions.
“‘Obviously there is someone’s welfare at stake and clearly we’re in a very difficult and complex situation which I don’t want to risk by speculation or going into too much detail about the communications that have existed,” he said.
“None of us know where this is going to end.”
The UN Command said last week that it was “working with” its North Korean counterparts, so it isn’t clear if this line of communication is a new step or refers to the previous communication.
The Korean Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953 is approaching its 70th anniversary on July 27. It marks the longest ceasefire on record, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The “mechanisms” under the agreement that have now come into play with King could refer to the so-called pink phone telephone line between the UN Command and the KPA at the border village where King crossed.
The U.S. has expressed concern for King’s well-being and said that North Korea ignored requests for information on him.
Analysts say North Korea may wait weeks or months before providing information on King to maximize its leverage, potentially in an attempt to have the U.S. cut back military activities in South Korea.
Last week, the U.S. sent a nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine to South Korea, the first such visit since the 1980s. North Korea conducted ballistic missile tests hours afterward.
— with files from Global News’ Kathryn Mannie, the Associated Press and Reuters.