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S. Korea to push for recovery of Korean War-era remains in talks with North

President Moon Jae-in pays tribute to a South Korean soldier killed during the 1950-53 war during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Daejeon National Cemetery, Wednesday, June 6, 2018.

COURTESY OF THE BLUE HOUSE

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 6, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will take advantage of improved relations with the North to push for the recovery of remains of soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday.

More than 120,000 South Korean and 7,702 U.S. troops remain unaccounted for, many believed lost on the North Korean side of the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula.

Moon expressed hope that the burgeoning détente with the North would allow teams to start by retrieving remains from the Demilitarized Zone, a 154-mile long, 2.5-mile wide no man’s land that’s dotted with land mines and lined with barbed wire.

“We will continue efforts to recover the remains of members of the military and police who fell during the Korean War until we find the last remaining person,” he said during a Memorial Day ceremony at Daejeon National Cemetery.

“When the South-North relations improve, we will push first for the recovery of remains in the Demilitarized Zone,” he said. “We will also be able to retrieve the remains of U.S. and other foreign soldiers who participated in the war.”

Officials also have suggested that President Donald Trump could bring up the issue in his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Tuesday in Singapore.

The North freed three American prisoners and handed them over to visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in what was widely seen as a goodwill gesture ahead of the first-ever summit between the two countries.

Veteran diplomat Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has said “the return of some remains of our soldiers from the Korean War to their families” would also contribute to “a friendly summit.”

Sixteen countries fought with South Korea under the U.N. flag during the war, which ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty. Efforts to recover remains have been subject to the on-again, off-again diplomacy with the North.

Joint U.S.-North Korean military search teams recovered 229 sets of American remains between 1996 and 2005, but the effort was called off after the George W. Bush administration claimed the safety of the American participants was not guaranteed. Critics also argued the North was using it to extract cash from the United States.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense also established a unit in 2007 to search for remains, but its efforts have been limited to the southern half of the peninsula. It cooperates with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which lists 7,702 missing personnel on its website.

The Killed in Action Recovery and Identification unit known as MAKRI says it has unearthed only about 9,800 sets of remains, identifying 128 South Korean soldiers and eight American who have been repatriated.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

 

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