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(LEAD) Remains of 147 S. Korean soldiers return home after 70 years

Diplomacy 07:50 June 24, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details of ceremony; CHANGES headline; dateline; ADDS photo)
By Lee Haye-ah and Oh Seok-min

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- A solemn ceremony was held in Hawaii on Tuesday to repatriate the remains of 147 South Korean soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.

The remains had been among those brought to the U.S. after joint excavation work in North Korea from 1990-1994, and following the first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June 2018.

Through two joint forensic reviews, South Korea and the United States identified 147 sets as those of South Koreans. The remains are being repatriated to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War on Thursday and will be welcomed home in an official ceremony by President Moon Jae-in.

This screenshot of the U.S. Department of Defense's livestream of a repatriation ceremony in Hawaii on June 23, 2020, shows a box of remains of a South Korean soldier killed in the 1950-53 Korean War being rewrapped with the flag of the United Nations Command. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"We pay tribute to our Korean War veterans and their families, along with the families of service members missing in action and the fallen, who marched into battle to protect and defend the region," Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said in keynote remarks during the ceremony held at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

"We honor them today as the embodiment of the ideals of our nations, those of our allies who fought as brothers in arms to deter aggression, defend sovereignty and protect individual human rights," he said.

Davidson noted that the South Korea-U.S. alliance has a "special bond" built on mutual trust, shared values and an enduring friendship.

"For more than six decades, our ironclad alliance has been the linchpin of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific, certainly one of the most successful of its kind in modern history," he added.

Of the 147 sets, one was placed before the attendees in a box draped with a U.S. flag. During the ceremony, the box was rewrapped first with the flag of the United Nations Command, which is responsible for the repatriation of Korean War remains under the Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953, and then with the South Korean flag.

The box was later carried to an aircraft that would fly it to Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, southeast of the capital, along with the other 146 sets.

Six Air Force fighters will be mobilized to provide air cover when the aircraft enters Korea's air defense identification zone, in honor of the fallen soldiers, according to Seoul's defense ministry.

On behalf of the South Korean government and people, Vice Defense Minister Park Jae-min said he is grateful for the opportunity to repatriate the remains.

"The Republic of Korea and the United States will continue their mutual cooperation to pursue the fulfillment of a nation's sacred duty to remember the sacrifices of the fallen warriors and to bring every last one home," he said in his remarks, adding that the remains of six American soldiers killed in the Korean War will be returned home during this week's ceremony in South Korea.

Tuesday's repatriation marked the fourth of its kind, bringing the total number of returned sets of remains to 239.

The defense ministry said it will work to identify the remains individually. Seven sets have already been identified and will be returned to the families.

The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops, backed by the Soviet Union, invaded the South.

Around 140,000 South Korean troops were killed in action, and some 450,000 others were injured during the war. The number of fallen South Korean troops whose remains have yet to be recovered stands at around 123,000.

Around 1.95 million people from 22 countries, including the U.S., Britain, Canada and Turkey, also took part in the three-year war, including six countries that extended medical support. Of them, 37,902 were killed and 103,460 wounded, according to government data.

This file photo from Oct. 1, 2018, or Armed Forces Day, shows an honor guard carrying the remains of 64 South Korean soldiers killed in North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, which arrived at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, southeast of Seoul, from Hawaii. The remains were found during a joint excavation project between the United States and North Korea in major Korean War battle zones in the communist state from 1996-2005. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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