US believes human remains returned by North Korea probably American

A ceremony with full military honors was held in South Korea on Wednesday. It was attended by Americans, South Koreans and other soldiers and officials from UN countries who fought in the war.

The remains, which had been transferred into full-sized caskets draped with UN flags, were loaded onto a military transport aircraft and flown from South Korea’s Osan air base to Hawaii for further analysis and identification. Positively identifying the remains could take days to decades. 

The US Defense director of analysis for the POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), John Byrd, said on Wednesday: “There is no reason to doubt that they do relate to Korean War losses,”

Fifty-five metal cases had been flown from North to South Korea on Friday. According to initial forensic analysis, the human remains appear to hold remains from the Korean War, and are likely American.

Byrd said that the North Koreans had provided information about where each body had been found so that it would be possible to match the individuals to battles fought.

The remains were brought to South Korea at a ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea

The remains were brought to South Korea at a ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea

Repatriation breakthrough

Friday’s transfer of the remains was the first of its kind in over a decade and coincided with the 65th anniversary of the 1953 armistice. The two sides are technically still at war since no peace treaty was signed.

North Korea handed over 437 caskets between 1990 and 2005, of which 334 identities have been established, according to the DPAA. But the recovery effort stalled for more than a decade due to a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

About 7,700 US soldiers are listed as missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. About 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea.

US soldiers during the Korean War in 1950

US soldiers during the Korean War in 1950

Further identification required

Byrd told reporter: “The remains are consistent with remains we have recovered in North Korea… in the past.”

“There was a single dog tag (US soldier’s identity tag) provided with the remains,” Byrd said, adding that “the family of that individual has been notified. But I would caution… that it’s not necessarily the case that the dog tag goes with the remains… in the box.”

The transporter with the remains on board is due to land in Hawaii later Wednesday. In-depth forensic analysis, in some cases using mitochondrial DNA profile, at a laboratory belonging to the US Defense Department.

dv/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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