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North Korea may return up to 55 US troops’ remains next week: report

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Joint Security Area (JSA) looking into North Korea. (Travis Wise/Flickr)
July 17, 2018

After recent meetings discussing the repatriation of American troops’ remains, North Korea has agreed to return the first sets of remains, and the country could hand over up to 55 U.S. troops’ remains as early as next week.

A United States official said Tuesday that North Korea will hand over as many as 55 troops’ remains and permit the U.S. to return them home next week, Stars and Stripes first reported.

The remains are believed to be that of U.S. troops killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

More than 36,000 U.S. troops were killed, and 7,700 of those remain unaccounted for. At least 5,300 are estimated to have been killed in North Korea.

Top U.S. and North Korean military officials and diplomats met Sunday for initial discussions. It was the first meeting between the two nations’ top military officials since 2009.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Today’s talks were productive and cooperative and resulted in firm commitments.”

Pompeo added that several working level meetings were scheduled beginning on July 16 to develop plans to transfer the remains to the U.S. for their return home.

Last month, U.S. forces transported 100 wooden caskets to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in preparation to transport the recovered remains. The caskets are expected to be placed in metal transfer cases before returning to the U.S.

An anonymous U.S. official said: “They’re going to use our cases for the remains and give them back to us.”

The officials met again Monday in the DMZ where they discussed repatriation plans. No other issues arose during the meeting, as some expected.

An anonymous State Department official said that the meeting was intended to “continue coordination on the transfer of remains already collected in (North Korea) and the re-commencing of field operations.”

Ahead of the meeting, President Trump said North Korea was “in the process” of returning the remains.

As a result of the meeting, a U.S. delegation is planned to retrieve the remains from North Korea, then fly them out on July 27. They will first travel to South Korea’s Osan Air Base, or to Hawaii.

The date is said to be symbolic, as it falls on the 65th anniversary of the armistice that was signed to end the war.

The date and details could change, however, until the two sides solidify the details in the next meeting, which will reportedly be held soon.

North Korean officials have indicated that they may have as many as 200 remains ready to transfer to the U.S.

At the June 12 summit in Singapore, Kim Jong Un agreed to the “immediate repatriation” of U.S. troops’ remains already identified by North Korea.

The United Nations Command oversees the armistice agreement, and will also oversee the issue of war dead.

Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the handling of the remains would be carried out by the U.N.C. since the U.S. was one of 16 nations to fight under the U.N. flag during the Korean War.