North Korea to Hand Over Up to 55 Sets of US Remains Soon: Reports

Republic of Korea Army soldiers stand resolute at the iconic Joint Security Area where South and North Korean soldiers stand face to face across the Korean Demilitarized Zone, Panmunjom, South Korea, June 19, 2018. (U.S. Army photo/Richard Colletta)
Republic of Korea Army soldiers stand resolute at the iconic Joint Security Area where South and North Korean soldiers stand face to face across the Korean Demilitarized Zone, Panmunjom, South Korea, June 19, 2018. (U.S. Army photo/Richard Colletta)

North Korea has agreed after two days of talks with the U.S. military to return 50 to 55 sets of remains believed to be those of U.S. troops missing from the 1950-53 Korean War -- possibly within two weeks, according to media reports.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) but the reports, citing a U.S. official in Seoul, said the remains would be flown out of North Korea on July 27 in what would be the first repatriations since 2007.

The breakthrough on the issue of remains recovery was first reported Tuesday by Stars & Stripes.

The apparent agreement followed talks Sunday and Monday at the Panmunjom border village in the Demilitarized Zone between a U.S. team led by Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Minihan, chief of staff of the United Nations Command, and a North Korean military delegation.

The meetings were the first between U.S. and North Korean high-ranking officers since March 2009.

Following the Sunday meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the talks led by Minihan were "productive and cooperative and resulted in firm commitments."

He said North Korea had agreed on the "transfer of remains already collected," and had also agreed to resume joint searches with the U.S. at an unspecified date in North Korea for "the estimated 5,300 Americans who never returned home" from the Korean War.

At the June 12 Singapore summit with President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to cooperate in the recovery of remains, "including the immediate repatriation of those already identified."

Since the summit, Trump has said or tweeted several times that remains had already been returned, but there have been no transfers to date.

According to the DPAA, about 7,700 U.S. troops are still listed as missing from the Korean War; about 5,300 of that total are believed to have fallen in North Korea.

U.S. Forces Korea has already moved about 100 wooden transfer cases to the border area in anticipation of the return of remains. The initial plan is to fly the remains to Osan Air Base south of Seoul and then to the DPAA's laboratory for the painstaking identification process, which could take years.

The DPAA has in storage DNA samples from relatives for about 90 percent of those missing from the Korean War.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Show Full Article