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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The body of a man identified as a North Korean soldier will be repatriated to the North through a U.N. commission, U.S. and South Korean officials said Wednesday.

The remains, discovered Saturday off the east coast of South Korea near Kangwon Province, were found by a local fisherman.

“The body appears to be that of a North Korean soldier,” said U.S. Forces Korea spokeswoman Lt. Col. Deborah Bertrand. “Currently, the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission is coordinating with the North Koreans to repatriate the body.”

A spokesman at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense confirmed the United Nations would handle the case, saying the South Korean military was playing no role in the repatriation.

The body of an unidentified male in his mid-20s was found just after 1 p.m. on July 11, said South Korean police officials. A 51-year-old fisherman retrieved him from the water after seeing the body about 600 feet from Gajin Port.

The body was dressed in an all-beige uniform, with a coat bearing North Korean army emblems. Based on a preliminary inspection, authorities estimated the man had died about one week earlier.

The recovery marked the first time the body of a drowned North Korean was found in the area, said Park Hwan-chul of the Geseong Province police. But officials said the remains of North Korean soldiers are found two or three times during each summer rainy season.

The soldiers presumably drown in rain-swollen rivers in North Korea, then the bodies are carried to the south by swift currents. As in a summer 2001 honor guard ceremony, such bodies are repatriated at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

In such ceremonies, North Korean officials view the body, usually accept the remains, then drape the coffin with a North Korean flag and have their own honor guard carry it away.

Until this year, American veterans had complained about the repatriation ceremonies, noting that remains of U.S. soldiers found in North Korea were flown to Yokota Air Base in Japan to be repatriated.

But twice already this year, U.S. remains have traveled overland through the DMZ and been honored at Yongsan Garrison ceremonies in Seoul.

— Jennifer Kleckner contributed to this report.


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