According to U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, North Korea has agreed to return as many as 55 sets of remains believed to be U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War.
Details emerged after talks held in the truce village, Panmunjom, on July 16, as an official familiar with the talks briefed the newspaper.
The United States will provide cases for the remains, and a U.S. delegation will go to North Korea to retrieve them, flying them out on July 27 either to Osan Air Base in South Korea or to Hawaii. The date for flying the remains out may change, pending another set of talks in which details will be settled.
July 27 would be a symbolic date, as it marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that stopped hostilities during the Korean War.
North Korea said it would return between 50 and 55 sets of remains. This is the first return of remains since 2007. Tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program had interrupted previous efforts.
This new initiative is a positive development in the ongoing talks between North Korea and the United States, which seemed to have hit a rough patch. After U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s most recent visit to the isolated state, North Korean state-run news agency KCNA referred to the talks as “regrettable” and criticized what it called the U.S. “gangster-like mindset.”
At the meeting on July 16, the talks were focused on the issue of returning the war dead, and the North Koreans did not ask for anything in return, as South Korean media had speculated they would.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, American forces during the Korean War suffered 33,686 battle deaths and 2,830 non-combat deaths. However, civilians suffered the worst, with North Koreans losing an estimated 600,000 and the South Koreans an estimated 1 million.