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North Korea handing over up to 55 US troop remains on Friday, marking 65th Armistice anniversary

President Donald J. Trump with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un | June 12, 2018. (Shealah Craighead/White House)
July 26, 2018

The repatriation of U.S. remains from North Korea is set to take place on Friday, this after a several weeks of back-and-forth between U.S. and North Korean officials.

There are reportedly at least 50 and up to 55 sets of U.S. troops’ remains that are expected to be transferred, according to CNN.

An anonymous State Department official told NK News that the transfer will take place at North Korea’s Kalma Airport, instead of the traditional truce village of Panmunjom just inside South Korea’s border from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries.

The transfer will mark several milestones. The date marks the 65th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, and is the first repatriation transfer in more than a decade. It is also the first time a U.S. military aircraft will land at the Kalma Airport.

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The anniversary of the agreement is typically treated as a holiday filled with anti-U.S. propaganda, formerly celebrated as the “Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War.”

However, North Korea appears to be cutting down on anti-U.S. propaganda. They eliminated anti-U.S. propaganda from a June 25 holiday marking the beginning of the Korean War, and took earlier efforts to remove anti-U.S. propaganda from streets and shops.

The actions, coupled with the transfer of remains, appear to be an effort by North Korea to build trust with the U.S., signaling progress in relations with the two nations.

Anywhere from 50 to 55 sets of remains are reportedly expected to be transferred.

The official said the remains will take a quick flight to Osan Air Base south of Seoul, where they can be examined by officials.

“What’s happening tomorrow is the simple transport of whatever North Korea gives us down to Osan so that they can be examined by the experts from Hawaii, the DPAA,” the official said.

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The DPAA experts are from the POW/MIA Account Agency within the Department of Defense. The experts have been in Seoul for several days to prepare for the transfer process.

“Several days are needed at least for preliminary investigators to make sure that these appear to be genuine remains of humans and of U.S. soldiers,” the official added.

A formal ceremony is expected to be held at Osan Air Base, and then the remains will be brought to Hawaii for additional DPAA testing for identification.

Many have been skeptical on negotiations for the return of U.S. remains amid concerns over denuclearization talks. However, different officials are reportedly handling the repatriation talks, leaving the two issues separate.

Earlier this week, the U.S. reportedly delivered transfer cases to North Korea in preparation for the remains.

The U.S. hasn’t received remains from North Korea since 2007, when New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson negotiated the return of six remains. A wide-scale effort to recover the remains was suspended in 2005 due to North Korea’s nuclear activities causing safety concerns for U.S. officials.