WASHINGTON (AP) â€” In a ceremony timed to coincide with Veterans Day, American officials will travel to North Korea to accept 15 sets of remains believed to be U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.
The ceremony Saturday in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, will culminate a series of five joint U.S.-North Korean excavations at former battlefields this year that have yielded 65 sets of remains. That is the largest number recovered in North Korea in any year since the recovery work began in 1996.
Last year only 13 remains were found.
``This has been the most successful year yet,'' Robert Jones, head of the Pentagon office responsible for POWs and MIAs, said in an interview. He said a small group of Pentagon officials would fly to Pyongyang in an Air Force C-17 transport plane to receive the remains and take them to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii for examination by forensics experts at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory.
The Pentagon lists 8,100 U.S. servicemen as missing from the Korean War, although it believes that only about half that number could be recovered. About 1,200 remains are believed to be at former POW camps near the Yalu River on North Korea's northwestern border with China, and about 1,500 are thought to be in the vicinity of the Chongchon River, north of Pyongyang, which was the focus of this year's excavation effort.
Jones said the Pentagon hopes to obtain North Korea's permission to begin looking for remains in the Chosin Reservoir area, where about 1,000 remains of U.S. servicemen are believed to be recoverable.
``They know this is a high priority for us,'' Jones said.
The Chosin Reservoir holds special significance in the history of the Korean War. It was the scene of some of the most savage fighting of the war in late November and early December 1950 as tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers attacked elements of the 1st Marine Division and the Army's 7th Division. The Americans were forced to withdraw, leaving behind many dead who had been hurriedly buried in shallow graves.
At Saturday's repatriation ceremony in Pyongyang, U.S. officials will submit a written proposal for a meeting to be held in New York in December to discuss joint recovery operations for 2001, Jones said. The North Koreans have agreed to meet but the timing and location are yet to be decided, he said.
The U.S. government paid North Korea $2 million for its assistance in this year's excavation work.