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Mattis: North Korea returning US soldier remains a ‘humanitarian act’

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Mattis
Defense
Secretary James Mattis on Friday applauded North Korea for
returning the potential remains of US soldiers killed in the
Korean War.

Reuters

  • Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday said the
    return of remains believed to be of US soldiers killed in the
    Korean War by North Korea was a “humanitarian act.”
  • 55 sets of remains were transferred on Thursday
    to Osan Air Base in South Korea, from which they will then
    be transferred to a lab in Hawaii to be identified.
  • For years, the US has sought to locate and repatriate
    their remains, but political tensions between the US and North
    Korea have often made that extremely difficult.
  • It’s estimated that roughly 7,700 US soldiers did not
    return home when the Korean War ended via an armistice in 1953,

    according to the Department of Defense
    .

Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday said the return of
remains believed to be of US soldiers killed in the Korean War by
North Korea was a “humanitarian act.”

“This humanitarian act is a step in the right direction,”
Mattis
told reporters

Fifty-five sets of remains were transferred on Thursday
to Osan Air Base in South Korea, from which they will then
be transferred to a lab in Hawaii to be identified. Officials
have been careful to note that these are possible remains of US
soldiers and that further analysis is necessary in order to
confirm their identities. 

It’s estimated that roughly 7,700 US soldiers did not
return home when the Korean War ended via an armistice in 1953,

according to the Department of Defense
, and the remains of
5,300 are believed to still be in North Korea. 

The
Geneva Convention
calls for parties to a conflict to work
toward returning the remains and personal possessions of the dead
“upon request of the party to which they belong or upon the
request of their next of kin.” 

For years, the
US has sought to locate and repatriate their remains, but
political tensions between the US and North Korea have often made
that extremely difficult.

There has been some success from these efforts, and roughly
340 remains have been repatriated since 1990.

Meanwhile, keenly aware of the Pentagon’s desire to have these
remains repatriated, North Korea has often attempted
to use
the topic as a bargaining chip
in negotiations with the US,
including during President Donald Trump’s meeting with North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June.

At the Singapore summit,
Trump and Kim signed an agreement
 regarding the
denuclearization of North Korea that included a pledge to
repatriate the remains of dead US soldiers. Since that time, it
was unclear if the North would keep its word, especially after a
rocky visit from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

But the repatriation of the 55 sets of remains this week marks a
step forward in this process, which Trump celebrated via Twitter
on Thursday. 

The president tweeted,
The Remains of American Servicemen will soon be leaving
North Korea and heading to the United States! After so many
years, this will be a great moment for so many families. Thank
you to Kim Jong Un.”

Trump has faced criticism over the agreement he signed with
Kim, which many feel is
too vaguely worded
and offers North Korea a significant
amount of wiggle room in terms of the denuclearization
process. 

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