N.Korea might allow U.S. in to recover Korean War dead
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
CAMP H.M. SMITH — North Korea has proposed allowing the United States back into the country to recover American missing war dead from the 1950-53 war, the head of U.S. Pacific Command said.
“We’re going to enter into discussions with (North Korea). That is what we know right now,” Adm. Robert Willard said today. “They are willing to talk about it and we’re willing to address the particulars with them.”
According to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base, 8,034 U.S. service members are still unaccounted-for from the Korean War.
Of that total, estimates are that approximately 5,100 are located in North Korea.
The accounting command conducted recovery missions in North Korea between 1996 and 2005, at a cost of millions in dollars paid to the regime.
The U.S. ceased recovery operations in the spring of 2005 with officials saying the North created security concerns that potentially could have jeopardized the safety of Hawaiçi-based investigation and recovery teams.
In particular, U.S. officials raised concern about the North’s prohibitions on communication equipment used by the Americans.
The suspension of recoveries also occurred as tensions rose over North Korea’s nuclear program. The program also was stopped before, in 2002, over the North’s nuclear weapons activity.
Willard, who spoke to reporters today at his Camp Smith office, said there is no ongoing military-to-military engagement with North Korea. Such engagement is used elsewhere in the region to develop relationships and improve stability.
“It’s a complex problem. We’ve been in (North Korea for recovery missions) before, and it appears that we’re being invited to consider going back again,” Willard said. “It’s something that we’ll take seriously and we’ll enter into dialogue with them and find out where it will lead.”
No timeline was given for a possible return date.
Willard said he can’t speak to the North’s motivations for choosing to re-engage with the United States on the recovery issue.
“If the overture is being made to allow that tiny bit of engagement to occur, we think there is likely benefit to be derived from it — in addition to what it accomplishes in our own personnel accounting,” he said.
Willard on Oct. 19 took command of the region that has 320,000 U.S. service members and 36 nations. The region is home to more than half of the world’s population.
The accounting command’s mission is to achieve the fullest possible accounting of all Americans missing as a result of the nation’s past conflicts.
Accounting command field activities in North Korea from 1996 to 2005 yielded over 220 remains. Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea unilaterally turned over 208 sets of U.S. remains.
The majority of the accounting command’s missions in North Korea were to Unsan and Kujang counties.