US and North Korean military officials met on the inter-Korean border on Sunday to discuss the return of remains of US soldiers killed in the 1950-53
North Korea has returned remains believed to be of US troops killed during the Korean War, the latest move in the cautious diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang.
Troops formed an honour guard as the plane carrying the remains touched down at a US base in South Korea.
Relatives have waited for years to retrieve the remains of their loved ones.
The repatriation was agreed at the June summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
The summit in Singapore, where the leaders agreed to work towards the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” has been criticised for a lack of details on when or how Pyongyang would renounce nuclear weapons.
But the return of US remains was one of four points actually listed in that June declaration and comes on the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
It is believed that 55 soldiers have been returned this time but their remains will need to be forensically tested to ensure they are indeed slain US troops – it’s possible that the identification process could take years.
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.
The remains are believed to be in: prisoner of war camps – many perished during the winter of 1950; the sites of major battles, such as the areas around Unsan and Chongchon in the north-west of the country – said to contain approximately 1,600 dead; temporary UN military cemeteries – China and North Korea returned about 3,000 dead Americans in an effort called Operation Glory in 1954, but others remain and the demilitarised zone that separates North and South Korea – said to contain 1,000 bodies.
Between 1990 and 2005, 229 sets were returned, but this halted as relations deteriorated with the development of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
A US military aircraft took the remains to the US base at Osan in South Korea where, according to the White House, a repatriation ceremony will be held on 1 August after some initial testing.
The remains will then be brought to the US to undergo thorough forensic testing.
The White House said it was “a solemn obligation of the United States Government to ensure that the remains are handled with dignity and properly accounted for so their families receive them in an honorable manner.”
The US government said it was “encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change.”
The return of the dead soldiers was “a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home.”