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U.S., North Korea Agree on Joint Operations to Find

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 1996 – North Korea has agreed to allow U.S. recovery experts into its territory to hunt for remains of service members killed during the Korea War.

More than 8,100 Americans are unaccounted for from that war. DoD officials estimated the remains of between 3,000 and 4,000 Americans may be recoverable. Representatives of the two nations reached the agreement in a meeting in New York City.

Alan Liotta, deputy director of DoD's Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Office, said the United States has no particular site in mind for the first search. DoD officials will meet with a North Korean delegation in June to hammer out details of the joint recovery effort.

A U.S. and North Korean delegation met in Hawaii earlier this year and failed to reach a search accord. A sticking point then was U.S. compensation to North Korea for remains the North Koreans had already turned over. The North Koreans demanded $4 million for 162 sets of remains. In New York, the parties agreed to $2 million -- but the most important part of the agreement was allowing U.S. recovery teams into North Korea.

Of the 162 sets of remains the North Koreans turned over, officials at the Army's Central Identification Lab in Hawaii were able to identify only five. "Their recovery techniques were not allowing us to make identifications," Liotta said. "Our hope is that as we move into joint recovery operations, using our techniques in conjunction with some of their techniques, we will be able to recover remains and have a much higher identification rate."

Liotta said there are a number of sites the United States is interested in examining. "We could go, for example, to a former POW camp where we know American servicemen died and were buried," he said. "We could go to known crash sites where we lost aviators.

"There are other places where we know of burial sites of individuals. Some [remains are in] mass graves, where we have a potential for a large number of recoveries."

The large number of unaccounted-for Americans from the Korean War is a result of the war itself. The North invaded South Korea in 1950 and pushed U.S. and Republic of Korea forces to the tip of the peninsula before a U.S. invasion at Inchon relieved the pressure.

United Nations forces -- it was a U.N. effort -- chased the North Koreans back over their border and then followed. Much hard fighting occurred in the North, and the U.N. forces looked on the verge of victory before the People's Republic of China came in on the North Korean side. U.N. forces retreated into South Korea before stabilizing the front where today's demilitarized zone is. Thousands of American dead, therefore, remain in the North.

Relations between North Korea and the United States remained glacial until former President Jimmy Carter trekked to North Korea to work out an agreement over nuclear proliferation issues. Then North Korean leader Kim Il Sung suggested there might be cooperation between North Korea and the United States on returning remains.

Liotta called the North Korean move a positive step and said it is important the United States pick a good site for the first joint recovery operation. "[We want] to show to the North Koreans that ... we can indeed accomplish the goal that we're after; and that is the return of these Americans back to the United States and to their families for burial with honors," he said.

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