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(2nd LD) UNC holds repatriation ceremony for 55 sets of American troop remains

All News 17:03 August 01, 2018

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead, dateline; RECASTS throughout)
By Song Sang-ho and Joint Press Corps

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea, Aug. 1 (Yonhap) -- In a solemn ceremony marking the return of 55 sets of remains of American troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War, the U.N. Command (UNC) renewed its long-avowed pledge Wednesday: the fallen will never be forgotten nor be left behind.

The ceremony took place in a hangar at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, five days after a U.S. airplane transported the remains to the South from the North in a move expected to facilitate ongoing efforts to promote peace on the peninsula.

The repatriation was part of the June summit agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which also includes seeking to build "new" ties, fostering a "lasting and stable" peace regime and pursuing the complete denuclearization of the peninsula.

"The Korean War fallen have never been forgotten by the United States of America nor the 16 other sending states that comprise the UNC. UNC never leaves troops behind, living or deceased, and will continue the mission of repatriation until every service member returns home," the command said in a press kit.

"UNC is taking great responsibility to ensure remains from the Korean War are being handled with dignity and are properly accounted for so their families may receive them in an honorable manner," it added.

The ceremony was attended by 500 people, including South Korea's Defense Minister Song Young-moo, UNC commander Gen. Vincent Brooks and U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris.

Upon return from the communist state on Friday, the remains were examined and cataloged at Osan Air Base by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) until Tuesday. POW stands for "prisoner of war" and MIA means "missing in action."

Following the repatriation ceremony, the remains will be flown to a DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, where historians and scientists will work for forensic identification, the command said.

At the DPAA lab, staffed by more than 30 anthropologists, archaeologists and forensic odontologists, the remains are examined to produce a biological profile that includes sex, race and age at death. Scientists use various techniques, such as analysis of skeletal remains and sampling mitochondrial DNA. They also analyze material evidence, including uniforms, personal effects and identification tags.

When the identification process is complete, the remains will be returned to their next of kin for burial.

Since 1990, an estimated 629 sets of U.S. war remains have been recovered, according to the UNC.

The U.S. estimates that some 7,630 sets of remains, including about 1,000 in the Demilitarized Zone, are in the North.

Wednesday's event comes amid growing concerns about a lack of progress in the North's denuclearization efforts.

Washington and Pyongyang appear to be at loggerheads over the sequence of what could be a long peace process.

The North wants the U.S. to agree to a political declaration of a formal end to the Korean War in an apparent move to ensure its regime security, while the U.S. apparently wants the communist state to take concrete denuclearization steps first, including an accurate declaration of its nuclear and missile programs.

This image, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows a ceremony marking the repatriation of the remains of U.S. troops. (Yonhap)


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