North Korea returns remains of U.S. servicemen killed during Korean War

North Korea returns remains of U.S. servicemen killed during Korean War

The Associated Press

North Korea in late July 2018 returned the remains of what are believed to be U.S. servicemen killed during the Korean War, the White House said, with a U.S military plane making a rare trip from a U.S. base in South Korea to a coastal city in the North to retrieve the remains.

The handover follows through on a promise Kim Jong Un made to U.S. President Donald Trump when the leaders met in June 2018 and is the first tangible result from the summit.

An Associated Press journalist at Osan Air Base outside Seoul saw the plane land, and the White House earlier confirmed that a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft containing remains of fallen service members had departed Wonsan, North Korea, on its way to Osan. A formal repatriation ceremony was held there August 1.

At Osan, U.S. servicemen and a military honor guard lined up on the tarmac to receive the remains, which were carried in boxes covered in blue United Nations flags. (Pictured: United Nations Command Chaplain U.S. Army Col. Sam Lee performs a blessing of sacrifice and remembrance on the 55 cases of remains believed to be U.S. servicemen killed during the Korean War and returned by North Korea at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on July 27, 2018.)

Details of what specifically the U.S. had picked up were unclear, but reports said previously that Pyongyang would return about 55 sets of remains from the 1950-53 Korean War.

About 7,700 U.S. Soldiers are listed as missing from the Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea. The war killed millions, including 36,000 U.S. Soldiers.

Handover of the remains will be followed by a lengthy series of forensic examinations and tests to determine if they are human and whether they are American or allied troops killed in the conflict.

Officials in North Korea had no immediate comment on returning the remains on the 65th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, which the country celebrates as the day of “victory in the fatherland liberation war.”

The remains were to undergo scientific testing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii to try to identify them.

The U.S. military said in June 2018 that 100 wooden “temporary transit cases” built in Seoul were sent to the Joint Security Area at the Korean border as part of preparations to receive and transport remains in a dignified manner. U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Chad Carroll also said, at the time, that 158 metal transfer cases were sent to a U.S. air base and would be used to send the remains home.

The remains are believed to be some of the more than 200 that North Korea has held in storage for some time and were likely recovered from land during farming or construction. The majority of the war dead, however, have yet to be located and retrieved from cemeteries and battlefields across the countryside.

Efforts to recover American war dead had been stalled for more than a decade because of a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program and a previous U.S. claim that security arrangements for its personnel working in the North were insufficient.

From 1996 to 2005, joint U.S.-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains. The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.

North Korea has held out the return of remains as a symbol of its goodwill and intention to improve ties with Washington. Officials have bristled, however, at criticism from the U.S. that it seeks to profit from the repatriations by demanding excessive fees for handling and transporting the remains.

Pyongyang has nevertheless expressed its willingness to allow the resumption of joint search missions in the country to retrieve more remains. Such missions had been held from 1996 until they were cancelled by then-U.S. President George W. Bush amid heightening tensions over the North’s nuclear program in 2005.

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