Pyongyang may soon start return of US troop remains

WASHINGTON • North Korea may soon return the first of 200 sets of remains of American soldiers who died during the Korean War, after an agreement reached last week by Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, a US official has said.

"Preparations continue" to receive the remains, the United States official said on Tuesday, on condition of anonymity. "It could happen in the next few days."

The US and North Korean leaders agreed to the repatriations during their historic June 12 summit in Singapore.

"On several occasions in the past, DPRK officials have indicated they possess as many as 200 sets of remains they had recovered over the years," the Pentagon said in a factsheet updated on Monday about those reported missing in action during the Korean War of 1950-1953.

"The commitment established within the Joint Statement between President Trump and Chairman Kim would repatriate these as was done in the early 1990s and would reinforce the humanitarian aspects of this mission."

The document used the abbreviation for North Korea's formal name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

More than 35,000 Americans were killed on the Korean Peninsula during the war, which ended in an armistice with no peace treaty.

Among them, 7,700 are still considered missing, including 5,300 in North Korea alone, according to the Pentagon.

Between 1990 and 2005, the US was granted the repatriation of 229 sets of remains from the North under an earlier agreement that was subsequently suspended when ties between the two countries deteriorated.

In another sign of warming ties between the US and North Korea, anti-American souvenirs once sold on the North Korean side of the Demilitarised Zone have disappeared from gift shop shelves, Western tour operators say.

Among more generic gifts like ginseng, a North Korean shop on the tourist route to the fortified border between the two Koreas usually sold stamps, postcards and other souvenirs attacking the US.

"They're always very popular, not very subtle, and, as of now, have all been removed," said Mr Simon Cockerell, general manager at Koryo Tours.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Pyongyang may soon start return of US troop remains'. Print Edition | Subscribe