North Korea has returned the remains believed to be of 55 American troops killed during the Korean War (1950-53) as part of an agreement between US President Donald Trump and Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-un during the Singapore Summit.
A US Air Force C-17 aircraft on Friday carried the remains of the soldiers from Wonsan (North Korea) to Osan airbase in South Korea where a repatriation ceremony will be held on August 1, Yonhap news agency reported.
Onboard the aircraft were also members of the UN Command Korea. It is believed that the remains of the 55 soldiers were returned this time, but their remains will need to be forensically tested to ensure they were indeed slain US troops.
The White House immediately hailed the move as a “momentum for positive changes” by the communist nation in line with the bilateral summit agreement between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim-Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.
“Today, (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. General Vincent K Brooks, chief of the command and US Forces Korea, said the mission was successful and added: “Now, we will prepare to honour our fallen before they continue on their journey home.”
US President Donald Trump expressed his gratitude to the North Korean leader, saying it was a “great moment for so many families after so many years”. “Thank you to Kim Jong Un,” he tweeted.
The South Korean government called it “meaningful progress” conducive to building mutual trust. “(We) expect efforts by parties concerned to further accelerate for promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said.
The Defence POW (Prisoners of War)/MIA (Missing in Action) Accounting Agency will inspect the remains before a formal repatriation ceremony. Then the remains will be sent to a forensic lab in Hawaii. It may take months of detailed DNA analysis to determine how many American service members can be identified.
The repatriation came as the two Koreas and the US marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War.
More than 326,000 Americans fought alongside soldiers from South Korea and a UN coalition during the war to support the South against the Communist North.
Thousands of US military personnel from the Korean war remain unaccounted for and most of them — about 5,300 — were lost in what is now North Korea.
The missing US soldiers are among around 33,000 coalition troops still unaccounted for. Since 1990, North Korea has repatriated the remains of 340 US troops.
The repatriation was welcomed by relatives who have waited decades for progress.