North Korea to return US war dead

US President Donald Trump departs at the end of a rally with supporters in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 20, 2018.
US President Donald Trump departs at the end of a rally with supporters in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 20, 2018.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

WASHINGTON • The United States military is expecting the repatriation of US service members' remains from North Korea in the coming days, officials said, in a sign of renewed cooperation between the two countries in the wake of President Donald Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"United Nations Command Korea is planning for the repatriation of the remains of US service members previously recovered by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," said Colonel Chad Carroll, a spokesman for US forces in Korea. "We owe a profound debt of gratitude to US service members who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home."

As part of Mr Trump's agreement to address North Korea's nuclear programme, the two nations committed to sending home the remains of US soldiers, "including the immediate repatriation of those already identified". Officials said a transfer could occur in the next few days but the details and exact timing have not been finalised.

But Mr Trump, speaking at a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, appeared to suggest the transfer had already occurred. "We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains," he said. "In fact, today, already 200 have been sent back."

According to the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 7,800 American service members remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, and about 5,300 are believed to be located within North Korea.

North Korean officials have said they have the remains of about 200 US service members that they have recovered since the active conflict with the US ended in 1953.

  • 7,800

    Number of American service members who remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.

  • 5,300

    Number believed to be located in North Korea.

Repatriation of remains has occurred in the past, but only sporadically because of tensions between the two countries.

The US launched 33 investigative and recovery missions into North Korea between 1996 and 2005, but those efforts ended as the political situation between Washington and Pyongyang deteriorated.

In 2007, North Korea agreed to repatriate the remains of six soldiers as the George W. Bush administration made its own disarmament attempt. In 2012, the US military announced that it was planning to launch another recovery mission with North Korean approval after talks in Bangkok, but that effort also was eventually scuttled.

Officials said the United Nations Command in South Korea would likely receive the remains from the North Korean authorities before handing them over to a Pentagon agency in South Korea.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2018, with the headline 'North Korea to return US war dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe