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US military identifies more remains of American war dead handed over by North Korea

U.S. personnel take possession of 55 remains of U.S. troops' killed in the Korean War on the 65th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. July 27, 2018. (U.S. State Department/Released)
May 29, 2019

The U.S. military said on Tuesday that it had identified a total of six American troops from 55 boxes of human remains from the 1950-53 Korean War that North Korea handed over last year, even as the Pentagon has said it has given up hope of recovering more of them in the near future.

The U.S. Defense POW/MIA Account Agency (DPAA), which works to recover missing American troops around the world, earlier this month said it had not heard from North Korea since the second U.S.-North Korean summit, held in Hanoi in February, ended with no agreement. The agency said it had suspended efforts for 2019.

After their first summit in June last year, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a declaration committing to the recovery of remains of soldiers killed in the war.

In July, North Korea handed over 55 boxes of human remains, a move Trump hailed as evidence of the success of his negotiations with Kim.

On Tuesday, Lieutenant Colonel Ken Hoffman, a spokesman for DPAA, said that four families had been notified of the remains, while two other family notifications were pending. That brings the total service members identified to six from the 55 boxes.

Forensic anthropologists are combing through the remains at a secure facility on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan visited on Tuesday.

The July transfer coincided with the 65th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting between North Korean and Chinese forces and South Korean and U.S.-led forces under the U.N. Command.

Since July, there has been little progress on resuming the search for the roughly 5,300 Americans believed to be lost in what is now North Korea.

Despite that lack of progress, as recently as April 26 Trump touted the return of the remains and said they “continued to come back.”

The two sides remain technically at war because a peace treaty was never signed.

The United States and North Korea conducted joint searches for remains from 1996 until 2005, when Washington halted the operations citing concerns about the safety of its personnel as Pyongyang stepped up its nuclear program.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali Editing by Leslie Adler)

© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019