On Wednesday, North Korea made its first acknowledgment that a U.S. soldier had fled South Korea and crossed into North Korea last month. Army Private 2nd Class Travis King dashed into North Korea last month after slipping away from a flight that was supposed to take him back to the U.S. for punishment related to an infraction that had landed him in a South Korean jail. He found his way into a tour group at the airport that was headed to the border of the two countries. Once there, he ran into North Korea. “During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency reported, according to the BBC. The agency used the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea. “He also expressed his willingness to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” the statement said. “King admitted to ‘illegally’ intruding into the North,” KCNA said, according to The Washington Post. The statement did not provide any details about King’s health or detention. King is the first American to be held in North Korea in nearly five years. The Defense Department said it was unable to verify the statement. “We remain focused on his safe return,” Pentagon representative Martin Meiners said. [firefly_poll] Analysts said the North Korean statement is part of a wider war of words between North Korea and the United States. “North Korea will likely highlight racism in the United States and use it as a means to counter the United States’ criticism of North Korea’s human rights situation, rather than engaging in negotiations with the U.S.,” said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, according to Reuters. Rachel Minyoung Lee of the Stimson Center said North Korea tries to undercut American efforts on human rights by shining a spotlight on America’s flaws. For example, North Korea’s foreign ministry included racism in its summary of America’s ills while railing against a U.S.-sponsored meeting on Thursday to focus on human rights. “Not content with conniving at and fostering racial discrimination, gun-related crimes, child maltreatment and forced labor rampant in its society, the U.S. has imposed unethical human rights standards on other countries and fomented internal unrest and confusion,” the statement said. According to Claudine Gates, King’s mother, and her brother, Myron Gates, King was struggling to cope with life in South Korea in the months before he fled to North Korea, according to ABC. Both of King’s relatives said they did not put credence in reports King had been drunk because he usually shunned alcohol. They said King sent them links to songs on YouTube links in a type of code to tell them he was in a “dark place.” “When he first went to Korea, he was sending pictures home, and he was just so happy. And then, as time went on, he just started fading away. I didn’t hear from him anymore,” Claudine Gates said. She said one night she received a call from King who screamed over the phone, “I’m not the Army soldier you want me to be” before hanging up. “If he’s in North Korea, his life is at jeopardy. All day, every day. We don’t know how he’s being treated. We don’t know if he’s eaten. We don’t know if he’s being tortured. We don’t know if he’s being interrogated. We don’t know anything,” Myron Gates said. Claudine Gates said life changed in an instant when her son went to North Korea. “I was a very, very happy person. And now, I just worry,” she said. “Please, please send my valentine back home to me. I miss him so much,” she pleaded to North Korea. “I just want to hear his voice.” This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.