N. Korea, US hold talks on return of American war dead

Vehicles carrying UN flags arriving at a checkpoint on Togil bridge leading to Panmunjom yesterday.
Vehicles carrying UN flags arriving at a checkpoint on Togil bridge leading to Panmunjom yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • North Korean and US military officials met at the inter-Korea border yesterday to discuss repatriation of the remains of American troops killed during the Korean War, a report said.

Returning the remains of the US soldiers who perished during the 1950-53 conflict was part of a deal signed by the North's leader, Chairman Kim Jong Un, and US President Donald Trump during their landmark summit in Singapore last month.

The latest talks began at the border truce village of Panmunjom yesterday, the South's Yonhap news agency said, citing a Seoul official.

"We understand that the North-US talks on repatriation of the remains are under way," it quoted an unnamed official as saying.

The negotiations are the first working-level talks since US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's visit to Pyongyang earlier this month ended with North Korea denouncing the US' "unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearisation".

While recovering the war dead would provide Mr Trump a political victory similar to Mr Kim's May release of three living American detainees, it would do little to advance the goal of dismantling the regime's weapons programme.

Sources told Yonhap yesterday's talks lasted around two hours, but further details were not immediately available.

The talks were expected to focus on such details as when and how the remains should be transferred, according to Yonhap.

TV news footage showed vehicles with US army plates and believed to be carrying American officials heading to the heavily fortified border.

Mr Pompeo said earlier that the meeting would take place on or around last Thursday.

The North did not show up at the border on Thursday but contacted the US on the same day to offer to meet on Sunday, US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said last week, adding: "We will be ready."

The North then suggested holding general-level talks with the US-led United Nations Command, and Washington agreed.

The North's proposal of talks with the UN Command, even though the UN Command is led by the US, was seen as an attempt to use the meeting to discuss not only the repatriation of war remains, but also other issues, such as a proposal to jointly declare an end to the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The US Department of Defence estimates that North Korea is holding about 200 sets of remains from some 5,300 American military personnel who went missing during the three-year conflict.

Dozens of wooden coffins to carry the American remains have reportedly been taken to the southern side of the border in recent weeks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korea, US hold talks on return of American war dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe