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US Remains from Korea War Nearing ID   02/21 06:41

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The remains of more American soldiers killed decades ago 
in the Korean War are likely to be identified shortly from 55 boxes provided 
last summer by the North Korean army, the lead scientist working on the 
identifications said Wednesday.

   John Byrd, director of the Defense Department laboratory responsible for the 
work, said in an Associated Press interview that the additional identifications 
are probably coming in the next few weeks.

   He said there will be at least a couple, with a few more that are not quite 
as advanced in the process also likely to be positively identified.

   "We are finalizing all of the reports and putting them through final quality 
assurance before we officially make the ID and notify the families," Byrd said.

   This progress comes as President Donald Trump prepares for a follow-up 
summit meeting next week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on nuclear 
disarmament. At their first meeting in June, Kim agreed to turn over an 
unspecified number of U.S. war remains. Trump hailed this as evidence of an 
improved U.S. relationship with the North.

   Byrd's lab thus far has positively identified three U.S. soldiers from the 
remains in the 55 boxes, including one last month.

   Byrd said it was too early to provide a firm estimate of how many 
individuals are likely to be represented in the remains, but he offered an 
educated guess --- based on his extensive experience and having worked with the 
remains since last summer --- that "it's probably more than 50 and less than 
100."

   He said early indications are that perhaps 80 percent of the remains are 
those of Americans. The rest likely are Asians - probably South Koreans who 
fought alongside Americans.

   The North Korean army turned over the 55 boxes on July 27, in line with a 
joint Trump-Kim statement at the conclusion of their Singapore summit on June 
12 that the United States and North Korea "commit to recovering POW/MIA 
remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified." 
U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds 
perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from 
battlefields and former POW camps.

   Although next week's Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi is focused mainly on nuclear 
weapons issues, and there is no clear sign that it will deal again with Korean 
War remains, military family groups are holding out hope the talks will give a 
new boost to what have become stalled efforts by the Pentagon to resume 
recovery efforts inside North Korea.

   "We are pursuing the highest levels of government to be sure it's on the 
agenda" in Hanoi, said Rick Downes, president of the Coalition of Families of 
Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs. Downes, who was 3 when his father, Air Force Lt. 
Hal Downes, went missing in action in North Korea in January 1952, was present 
in Hawaii last summer when an American plane delivered the 55 boxes. He said in 
an interview Tuesday his group is troubled that the issue seems to have since 
fallen from the attention of senior U.S. officials.

   The North has yet to agree to face-to-face negotiations on terms under which 
Defense Department recovery personnel would be allowed to travel to known 
locations of missing U.S. soldiers. The reason for this impasse is unclear, but 
it has dashed U.S. hopes for beginning recovery operations as early as this 
spring.

   Chuck Prichard, spokesman for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, said 
Wednesday, "We remain optimistic that joint recovery operations this summer are 
still possible."

   The U.S. undertook 33 joint recovery operations in North Korea between 1996 
and 2005, when they were suspended by Washington amid growing U.S. concern 
about the North's nuclear weapons program. The Pentagon estimates that about 
5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.

   Trump occasionally cites his Singapore meeting as evidence of a breakthrough 
with North Korea on the long-contentious issue of recovering remains from the 
Korean War, which ended in 1953.

   "The remains are coming back," Trump said Tuesday in the Oval Office. He 
said "certain" ones had been identified, not mentioning that the number is just 
three. "Their families' members have found out exactly what's going on, and 
they've had ceremonies that are absolutely beautiful," he added.

   He went on to say that during his 2016 campaign he was approached by people 
who asked, 'Is it possible to get the remains back from North Korea?' So we've 
done that," although the numbers thus far are relatively small.

   The first person identified from the materials in the 55 boxes was Army 
Master Sgt. Charles H. McDaniel of Butler, Missouri, and Vernon, Indiana. The 
second was Army Pfc. William H. Jones of Nash County, North Carolina. And the 
third, announced last month, was Army Sgt. Frank Julius Suliman of Nixon, New 
Jersey.


(KA)

 
 
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