WASHINGTON – The U.s. military command in South Korea is preparing for the North Koreans to turn over the remains of an unknown number of AMERICAN or allied service members who have been missing since the Korean War, AMERICAN officials said on Tuesday.
Officials say that the timing of the ceremony is uncertain, but can be very fast. The officials were not authorized to discuss the preparation for an official announcement, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The remains are believed to be some or all of the more than 200 that the North Koreans have had for some time. But the exact number and the identity — or they are in the united states or allied service members — is not known until the remains are tested.
President Donald Trump increased the chance that the repatriation of the remains last week after his summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. At the time Trump said, “We get the remains, and no one thought it was possible.”
The Ministry of Defence, Ministry of foreign affairs and the White House declined on the latest development. The Pentagon would only say that an interdepartmental effort is underway and that Trump’s agreement with Kim last week cleared the way for the plans for the return of remains.
The transfer of remains is usually done in a somber, formal ceremony, and that is what the officials said is being planned. It was also not clear where the ceremony would take place, but it may be in the demilitarized zone on the border between North and South Korea.
It’s been more than a decade since North Korea turned over the remains of American troops missing from the Korean War.
Richard Harbor, director of the Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War POW/MIAs, said he has already been told of the North-perhaps the remains of more than 200 U.s. service members who were likely to be recovered from the land during agriculture or construction and can be easily returned. But he said that the vast majority yet to be recovered from various cemeteries and battlefields in the area.
More than 36,000 AMERICAN soldiers died in the conflict, including those listed as missing in action. Close to 7,700 AMERICAN troops remain missing from the Korean War, and about 5,300 of which were lost in North Korea.
Between 1996 and 2005, joint U.S.-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations and recovered 229 sets of American remains. Washington officially broke the program, because it claimed that the safety of the users is not guaranteed, although the North of the first nuclear test, in 2006, was probably a bigger reason.
The last time that North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, former U. N. ambassador and governor of New Mexico, ensured the return of the six sets.
According to Chuck Prichard, a spokesman for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, as soon as the remains are turned over, they would be forwarded to one of the two Department of Defense facilities — Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska — for tests in order to determine identification.