North Korea has returned remains of US war dead, says White House
Returning US war remains was a commitment made by Kim Jong Un during his meeting with Donald Trump in Singapore.
North Korea has returned the remains of what are believed to be US servicemen killed during the Korean War, the White House said.
A US military plane made a rare trip from a US base in South Korea to a coastal city in the North to retrieve the remains.
The handover follows through on a promise Kim Jong Un made to US president Donald Trump when the leaders met in June and is the first tangible result from the much-hyped summit.
The White House confirmed that a US Air Force C-17 aircraft containing remains of fallen service members had departed Wonsan, North Korea, on its way to Osan Air Base, outside Seoul. A formal repatriation ceremony will be held there on August 1.
At Osan, US servicemen and a military honour guard lined up on the tarmac to receive the remains, which were carried in boxes covered in blue United Nations flags.
Details of what specifically the US had picked up were unclear, but reports said previously that Pyongyang would return about 55 sets of remains from the 1950-53 Korean War.
About 7,700 US soldiers are listed as missing from the Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea. The war killed millions, including 36,000 American soldiers.
Despite soaring rhetoric about denuclearisation ahead of their meeting, Mr Trump and Mr Kim’s summit ended with only a vague goal for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how that would occur.
Friday’s handover will be followed by a lengthy series of forensic examinations and tests to determine if the remains are human, and whether they are actually American or allied troops killed in the conflict.
Friday’s repatriation could be followed by strengthened North Korean demands for fast-tracked discussions with the United States on reaching a declaration to formally end the war, which was stopped with an armistice and not a peace treaty.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry also said that the North agreed to general-level military talks next week at a border village to discuss reducing tensions across the countries’ heavily armed border.
The remains are expected to be flown to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii for scientific testing to identify them.
The US military last month said that 100 wooden “temporary transit cases” built in Seoul were sent to the Joint Security Area at the Korean border as part of preparations to receive and transport remains in a dignified manner.
The remains are believed to be some of the more than 200 that North Korea has held in storage for some time, and were likely recovered from land during farming or construction. The vast majority of the war dead, however, have yet to be located and retrieved from cemeteries and battlefields across the countryside.
Efforts to recover American war dead had been stalled for more than a decade because of a stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear program and a previous US claim that security arrangements for its personnel working in the North were insufficient.
From 1996 to 2005, joint US-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains. The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former UN ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.