North Korea is reported to have detained a serving US army soldier who crossed the heavily-fortified border from South Korea without permission.
The man was on an organised tour of the UN-run zone dividing the two countries.
The news comes during a particularly tense time with the North, one of the world’s most isolated states. US citizens are advised not to go there.
It’s unclear if the man has defected to North Korea or hopes to return. There has been no word yet from the North.
The soldier is Private 2nd Class Travis King, officials have told the BBC’s US partner CBS News, adding that he was being escorted back to America for disciplinary reasons. BBC News has contacted the US Department of State for comment.
According to CBS, Private King had passed through airport security at Seoul but somehow managed to leave the terminal and get on a tour of the border, from where he crossed over.
An eyewitness on the same tour told CBS they had visited a building at the border site – reported by local media to be the truce village of Panmunjom – when “this man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha’ and just runs in between some buildings”.
“I thought it was a bad joke at first but, when he didn’t come back, I realised it wasn’t a joke and then everybody reacted and things got crazy,” they said.
The United Nations Command, which operates the Demilitarised Zone and joint security area (JSA), said earlier the soldier did not have authorisation.
Its team has made contact with the North Korean military to try to negotiate his release.
“We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” it said.
The KPA is the Korean People’s Army – North Korea’s military. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separates the two Koreas and is one of the most heavily fortified areas in the world.
It is filled with landmines, surrounded by electric and barbed wire fencing and surveillance cameras. Armed guards are supposed to be on alert 24 hours a day. (BBC)