Trump’s remark on US war remains fuels confusion

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Jun 22, 2018 - 16:35
  • Updated : Jun 22, 2018 - 18:57

US President Donald Trump’s remark over the remains of US service members fueled confusion in South Korea, despite the president’s apparent attempt to correct his previous suggestion that the remains have been sent back from North Korea to the US.

During his meeting with cabinet members Thursday, Trump said the remains of US troops missing in the Korean War were in the process of being returned to the US from North Korea. The president said Wednesday that the remains have been sent back.

Trump’s apparent flip-flop fueled confusion over the complicated process of returning US troops’ remains from North Korea, prompting Seoul officials to explain the procedure that could be happening inside the reclusive country.

“Currently, we have no information” to confirm Trump’s remark, Choi Hyun-soo, a spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defense, said during a regular briefing Thursday. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Noh Kyu-duk also told reporters that the government was not aware about whether the US had received the remains, referring the question to the US government.

US President Donald Trump. Yonhap

Planning is reportedly underway in Washington to receive the remains of US service members from North Korea. While the exact transfer date and location have not been confirmed, it is speculated that the transfer could take place in the coming days -- as early as this week. 

Some South Korean military officials, however, predicted that the transfer process would take more than a few days, suggesting it would involve an arduous process of recovering and verifying the remains.

“I think it would take a few days to receive the remains as it requires a complicated process of classifying and identifying the remains.” a South Korean military official said under the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Complicating the process is the number of sets of remains expected to be returned. While the exact number has yet to be confirmed, it is expected to be up to 200 sets of remains, much more than previously delivered by the North before it stopped doing so in 2007.

The task even requires US officials to be dispatched to North Korea to collect the remains and bring them back to the military laboratory for DNA analysis. The US has reportedly sent a group of officials to North Korea. The US-led United Nations Command declined to comment on the report.

While the UNC representative, stationed at the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone, is expected to receive the remains from North Korea, there is a chance that North Korea may send the remains directly to the US, or its base in South Korea.

“I don’t think there is enough time for the US to hold a ceremony at the DMZ when they receive the 200 sets of remains. Given the large number of remains, they just could be sent from Pyongyang,” the official added.