SEOUL, Tuesday's agreement between the leaders of North Korea and the United States on American soldiers killed or missing in action during the Korean War is expected to provide momentum to resume a long-stalled recovery and repatriation project.
The North's leader Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump signed a joint statement in which the two countries "commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified."
It heralds the resumption of the war remains recovery program that came to a halt 11 years ago.
Nearly 1.8 million American troops participated in the 1950-53 conflict, fighting alongside South Korea against the invading North.
Among them, 33,686 were killed and 92,134 wounded, with 3,737 having gone missing and 4,439 taken prisoner, according to official data.
South Korea's defense ministry estimates that around 4,100 American service members were killed in what's now North Korea.
The project to recover the remains started in 1990 when Pyongyang was eager to improve ties with Washington.
The North sent a total of 208 sets of remains back to the U.S. between 1990 and 1994.
In 1996, the North and the U.S. launched joint work that continued through 2005. It resulted in the repatriation of 229 sets of remains.
The North last handed over six sets of remains to the U.S. in 2007, when then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson traveled to the communist nation.
The Trump-Kim summit deal may also have a positive effect on South Korea's efforts to start a full-fledged program to recover the remains of soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the inter-Korean border.
President Moon Jae-in talked about it during his Memorial Day speech last week. The South may raise the issue in general-grade military talks with the North slated for Thursday.
The South's longer-term goal is to turn the DMZ into a peace zone.
Source: Yonhap News Agency