U.S. forensic scientists have identified the remains of two soldiers killed in the Korean War, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on Tuesday.
North Korea returned 55 sets of remains to the U.S. in July, as part of the agreement signed by the two countries’ leaders in Singapore the previous month.
“It’s been good work done, they moved swiftly on a couple where they thought they had a better chance for a number of reasons, where the remains came from, and what background we had, and how much we had to work with,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
“There’s been already some closure for a couple of families that have waited many, many years for this.”
The forensic teams have reportedly analyzed 23 of the 55 sets of remains, though some are more complete than others.
“One of the reasons that we were able to identify them so quickly (was because their remains) were more complete than usual so it gave us more to look at and narrow down the identity with,” John Byrd, director of scientific analysis at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said in comments carried by Reuters.
But the next round of identifications might take longer and might be completed “right after Christmas,” Byrd added.
The last point of the joint statement signed in Singapore by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed North Korea to returning the remains.
“The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified,” the declaration reads.
Previous reports on the remains in early August indicated they were consistent with being Americans, and were returned along with U.S. military equipment like canteens, boots and a U.S. military ID tag.
Negotiations for the return of additional remains are ongoing, with U.S. and North Korea military representatives meeting on September 7 in the hopes of moving negotiations forward.
“Participants discussed military-to-military efforts to support any potential future return of remains,” UNC spokesman Col. Chad Carroll told Stars and Stripes.
More than 7000 U.S. troops who fought in the Korean War are unaccounted for, with approximately 5300 lost in what is now North Korea.
Between 1996 and 2005, the U.S. worked with North Korea and recovered around 400 caskets of remains, though Washington halted the cooperation in 2005 as it could not guarantee the safety of its personnel.
Featured image: United Nations Command
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