U.S. and North Korean negotiators agreed Wednesday to improve markedly several areas of cooperation in operations to recover the remains of American soldiers missing in action from the Korean War.
During talks in Bangkok, Thailand, both sides agreed to resume repatriating remains recovered during joint recovery operations in North Korea across the demilitarized zone at Panmunjom. This practice has not occurred since 1999. U.S. team members will accompany the remains into South Korea. Additionally, supplies and equipment for the 2004 operations will be moved by ground transportation across the DMZ.
I am encouraged by the level of cooperation the North Koreans demonstrated during these talks, said Jerry D. Jennings, deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/missing personnel affairs. We accomplished much at no additional cost to the U.S. government, and these new procedures will streamline the process of getting our teams in and out of North Korea, and bringing our fallen heroes back home to their families.
Jennings led Wednesdays talks, as well as those in November, where broad terms were set for five recovery operations and a period of unilateral and joint investigations prior to the excavations. The five operations will be centered in the areas of Unsan County, about 60 miles north of Pyongyang, and near the Chosin Reservoir in the northeast part of North Korea.
For the first time, the North Korean side also agreed to present to their senior leaders a proposal to establish a single point of contact to resolve reports of Americans living in North Korea. In the past, the North Koreans refused to even broach the subject denying that any Americans missing from the Korean War are still alive in the North. This doesnt resolve the live sighting issue in North Korea, but at least this time they agreed to discuss it and consider our request, said Jennings.
Since the United States has conducted remains recovery operations in North Korea every year since 1996, more than 180 sets of remains believed to be those of American soldiers have been recovered. More than 8,100 are still missing in action from the Korean War.