Remains of U.S. service members who died in North Korea during the Korean War, and have been in limbo for years, may be starting their final journey home within days.
President Donald Trump made the return of the remains, believed to be about 200 individual sets, part of the agreement he made with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un last week in Singapore.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) stated on its Korean War website that “on several occasions in the past, [North Korean] officials have indicated they possess as many as 200 sets of remains they had recovered over the years. The commitment established within the Joint Statement between President Trump and Chairman Kim would repatriate these.”
CNN reported Tuesday the repatriation could take place within days. The returned remains would be one of the terms the two countries agreed to, to also include the cancellation of annual military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. The first cancelled exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, was set to begin in August.
If returned, the remains would be sent to a DPAA lab. There the painstaking process of matching bone fragments, personal items or other potential DNA sources, such as teeth, with DNA samples it has collected from surviving family members would begin, in order to identify the remains and begin the process of reuniting them with their families.
North Korea has allowed the return of war remains previously. North Korea allowed 33 previous field investigations between 1996 to 2005 to document and if possible recover remains from crash sites or other locations. In those instances DoD pays for the recovery and repatriation but does not pay to obtain remains or obtain information leading to remains, the agency said.
“Should high level U.S.-[North Korea] negotiations result in the resumption of field operations, subsequent planning and logistical discussions would be conducted to determine how they would be executed,” the agency said on its webpage.
In his press conference following the Singapore summit, Trump said the outreach from families moved him to request the remains be added to the U.S. official request.
“They want the remains of their sons back and remains of their fathers and mothers,” Trump said last week. “The remains will be coming back. They will start that process immediately.”
“So for the thousands and thousands — I guess over 6,000 that we know of in terms of the remains — will be brought back. The POW/MIA issue is a clearly big issue to people.”
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.