North Korea returns remains of US troops killed in Korean War
White House hails repatriation as a significant step in Korean peace process
North Korea has returned the remains of some US troops killed during the Korean War (1950-53), the latest stage in diplomacy since president Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June.
The handover of the soldiers’ remains is the first concrete development since the June 12th summit, which was seen as a diplomatic victory for Mr Trump but was low on detail and did not include firm steps towards denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
“Today, (Mr Kim) is fulfilling part of the commitment he made to the President to return our fallen American service members. We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change,” the White House said in a statement.
South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in has said the repatriation could boost momentum towards progress in the nuclear talks.
A US Air Force C-17 military transport plane flew to an airfield in the North Korean city of Wonsan to bring the remains to Osan air base in South Korea. A formal repatriation ceremony will be held at Osan on August 1st.
Some 7,700 US soldiers are still listed as missing from the Cold War conflict, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea. An estimated 2.5 million people died during the war, including 36,000 American soldiers.
The number of remains was not specified but Korean media quoted informed sources saying that around 55 sets of remains in wooden boxes were repatriated.
The repatriation will be followed by a series of forensic tests to determine if the remains are human and are in fact American or allied troops killed in the conflict.
The repatriation came on the same day as the two Koreas and the US were marking the 65th anniversary of the signing of an armistice to end the conflict. A formal peace treaty was never signed.
Between 1996 and 2005, the US and North Korea carried out joint searches that collected 229 sets of American remains. The set of remains repatriated was in 2007.
Although Ireland was not a member of the United Nations at the time, and did not take part officially in the conflict, thousands of Irish troops took part in the Korean War, mostly serving in British army units as well as emigrants conscripted into the US military.