The U.S. is expecting to receive the first unilateral transfer of POW/MIA remains from North Korea in over a decade tomorrow, a U.S. State Department official confirmed to NK News on Thursday, in a move marking the 65th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement.
Speaking over the phone, the State Department official, who wished to remain anonymous citing Washington’s lead on the efforts, said that the transfer would not take place at Panmunjom as with many past unilateral transfers.
Instead, the official said that Osan Air Base, which lies just south of Seoul, is expecting to receive a flight carrying the delivery Friday morning after U.S. officials travel to North Korea to pick up the as-yet-unknown number of remains.
“What’s happening tomorrow is the simple transport of whatever North Korea gives us down to Osan so that they can be examined by the experts from Hawaii, the DPAA,” the official said.
The DPAA refers to the POW/MIA Accounting Agency under the U.S. Department of Defense, whose experts have been in Seoul for a matter of days in preparation for the transfer, the official said.
“Several days are needed at least for preliminary investigators to make sure that these appear to be genuine remains of humans and of U.S. soldiers,” they added.
A formal ceremony at Osan Air Base is then expected to follow in the coming weeks before the remains are brought to Hawaii for further testing by the DPAA to determine individual identities.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Thursday, citing a diplomatic source, that the U.S. delivered transfer cases earlier in the week overland and that the location of Friday’s repatriation would be the Kalma Airport on North Korea’s east coast.
This would mark the first arrival of a U.S. military aircraft to the newly-renovated airport, following intense speculation over the purpose of a U.S. military cargo plane to Pyongyang during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit earlier this month.
But the choice of Kalma for the transfer – instead of Panmunjom or Pyongyang International Airport – raises questions over the North’s motivations.
U.S. officials on Thursday, too, cautioned that details were still being worked out, creating some suspense amid uncertainty in negotiations over denuclearization and other matters.
Celebrated as “Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War” in North Korea, Friday’s anniversary is typically treated as a symbolic holiday and an opportunity to promote anti-U.S. propaganda.
This year, however, sees both sides looking to mark the important anniversary with a trust-building measure and a sign of progress in ongoing talks over the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear program.
The move comes after North Korea left out anti-U.S. rhetoric from its June 25 holiday marking the start of the Korean War, following earlier efforts to take down anti-American propaganda from city streets and souvenir shops.
The most recent unilateral transfer from North Korea occurred in 2007, when New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson received six sets of remains following talks at Panmunjom.
Joint field activities to recover remains were suspended by the U.S. in 2005, citing concerns over the North’s nuclear advances and the safety of American participants.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 549 words of this article.