Private Travis King ran into the North while on a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas, in July, and was detained.
In North Korea’s first official confirmation that it held King, state media said: “During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harboured ill feelings against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army.
“He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society.”
The North Korean state media channel said King was “kept under control by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army” after his crossing and the investigation is still active.
King’s uncle, Myron Gates, told ABC News in August that his nephew was experiencing racism during his military deployment, and that after he spent time in a South Korean jail, he did not sound like himself.
US officials have said they believe King crossed the border intentionally, and have declined so far to classify him as a prisoner of war.
A Pentagon spokesperson said it could not verify King’s alleged comments and said it was focussed on bringing him back.
The US, South Korea and others have accused North Korea of using foreign detainees to wrest diplomatic concessions.
The soldier’s family said his mother, Claudine Gates, is appealing to North Korea to treat her son humanely.
“She’s a mom worried about her son and would be grateful for a phone call from him,” the family said in a statement.
“Lastly, she has been in touch with the Army this evening and appreciates a [US Defence Department] statement that it remains focused on bringing Travis home.”
King, who joined the US Army in January 2021, is a cavalry scout with the Korean Rotational Force, which is part of the US security commitment to South Korea.
However, he faced two allegations of assault in South Korea, and eventually pleaded guilty to one instance of assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car.
He was due to face more disciplinary measures when he arrived back in the United States.
King had finished serving military detention and had been transported by the U.S. military to the airport to return to his home unit in the United States.
Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran across despite attempts by South Korean and US guards to stop him.