South Korea on Monday held a solemn ceremony marking the repatriation of the remains of 64 soldiers who were killed in North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War.
President Moon Jae-in presided over the repatriation ceremony at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, 40 kilometers south of Seoul, with the attendance of top military and government officials and religious leaders, including Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks.
Escorted by a fleet of F-15K and FA-50 fighter jets, the remains arrived at Seoul Air Base on Sunday afternoon aboard a South Korea Air Force transport plane from Hawaii.
In Hawaii on Friday, the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency handed them over to Seoul's Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk. POW stands for Prisoner of War, and MIA means Missing in Action.
The remains were found during a joint excavation project between the United States and North Korea in major Korean War battle zones in the communist state, such as Changjin, South Hamgyong Province. The project was conducted from 1996-2005
The remains were found to be of South Korean troops after the allies' authorities carried out joint forensic identification on the remains of presumably Asian troops, which the U.S. retrieved from the North, in Hawaii from Aug. 22-Sept. 7.
"It is a relief that my comrades who fought together at the Changjin Lake Battle have now returned home and will be laid to rest in their fatherland," Jeong Il-gwon, a Korean War veteran, said.
"I hope that the excavation of the remains in not only the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) but also other North Korean regions will begin quickly," he added.
After the repatriation ceremony, the defense ministry's Agency of Killed In Action Recovery & Identification will carry out the identification process, including DNA tests, to deliver them to their next of kin.
Amid the growing mood for inter-Korean rapprochement, the two Koreas plan to conduct a joint project to retrieve troop remains in the DMZ from April 1 to Oct. 31, 2019, following the removal of landmines and other explosives later this year.
South Korea and the U.S. carried out forensic identification on remains recovered in the North in 2011, 2015 and this year. Excluding the remains of the 64 troops, Seoul received those of 12 troops in 2012, 15 in 2016 and one earlier this year. (Yonhap News)