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Search for remains from war suspended

May 11,2019
The Pentagon’s efforts to recover the remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War has been effectively suspended with the stalled denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.

Lt. Col. Kenneth Hoffman, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), said in a statement to Reuters on Wednesday that it had not heard from North Korean officials since the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February ended with no deal.

“As a result, our efforts to communicate with the [North] Korean People’s Army regarding the possible resumption of joint recovery operations for 2019 have been suspended,” the spokesman said.

Hoffman added that the DPAA has reached the point where they “can no longer effectively plan, coordinate, and conduct field operations” in North Korea during the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

However, Hoffman said the DPAA is “assessing possible next steps” to resume communications with the North Korean army to resume potential joint recovery operations for the next fiscal year.

The issue of repatriation of remains of U.S. soldiers was one of the items on a four-point statement signed by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in their first summit in Singapore last June. The June 12 statement read that the United States and North Korea commit to recovering the remains of prisoners of war (POW) and soldiers missing in action (MIA), and “the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

Repatriation of the U.S. soldiers by North Korea was the only immediately feasible item in the Singapore statement and considered a good-will gesture towards the denuclearization negotiations.

Trump has frequently boasted that as a result of his engagement with North Korea there has been no more nuclear and missile testing and the remains of American soldiers were being returned. However, North Korea last Saturday launched short-range projectiles and on Thursday again launched short-range missiles.

Last July, North Korea handed over 55 boxes of remains of presumed U.S. soldiers, which U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accepted in person in a ceremony in Hawaii after being flown from the Osan Air Base in South Korea. The repatriation was seen by the Trump administration as a sign of Kim’s sincerity in negotiations.

Trump thanked the North Korean leader over Twitter on July 27 for the return of the dead soldiers.

It marked the first return of American remains from North Korea since 2007. Thus far, three U.S. soldiers have been identified from the 55 cases.

The remains of an estimated 5,300 American soldiers have yet to be recovered from North Korea.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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