WASHINGTON -- North Korea on Wednesday claims the U.S. Army private who crossed the border with South Korea in July had "expressed his willingness to seek refuge" in the secretive country after becoming disillusioned with American society.
Private 2nd Class Travis King, 23, had been deployed in South Korea and spent 47 days in a local jail after an altercation with locals, according to U.S. officials. After his release, he booked a tour of the Demilitarized Zone, during which he ran across the border.
North Korea responded early this month to questions about King, U.S. officials said at the time. A story published Tuesday in North Korea's state media appeared to mark the country's first public comments on King's presence and status.
Officials in North Korea said they've been investigating how and why King had crossed into the country, the report said.
King is alleged to have told investigators he crossed the border because he "harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army," the report said.
"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 report said.
U.S. officials weren't able to immediately verify King's comments, Department of Defense spokesperson Lt. Col. Martin Meiners said.
"We remain focused on his safe return," he said. "The Department's priority is to bring Private King home, and that we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome."
A State Department spokesperson on Wednesday said that the department can't verify the comments attributed to King by Pyongyang and that U.S. officials are still trying to secure his release."We remain focused on his safe return," the spokesperson said, adding, "We are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome."
ABC News' Shannon K. Crawford contributed to this report.