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Friday, May 14, 1999 Published at 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

US Korean war dead returned

North Koreans donned civilian suits for the ceremony

The remains of six United States soldiers killed in the Korean War in the 1950s have been returned to the United Nations Command.

Six aluminium coffins were handed over to US forces at the border village of Panmunjom, North Korea, by North Koreans in civilian suits.

[ image: The remains were found in an area where US forces had fought the Chinese]
The remains were found in an area where US forces had fought the Chinese
About 30 US veterans from the 1950-53 war saluted as the coffins were handed over, to be draped in blue United Nations flags.

A prayer of thanks for the return of the United Nations Command soldiers was offered after they returned to the southern side of the border.

Forensic probe

"The six that we brought home today will be flown back to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii where they will undergo forensic identification," said Alan Liotta, deputy director of the Pentagon's prisoner of war/missing personnel office.

"We hope that we can determine who they are and we can return them to their families," he added.

There are more than 8,100 men still unaccounted for from the Korean War and the challenge was to bring as many as possible back to the United States, he said.

The six soldiers returned on Friday are believed to have served with the US Army's 38th Infantry Regiment, Second Infantry Division.

First of six searches

They were discovered by a joint US-Korean search team, the first of six joint searches scheduled for this year and the 10th since the two countries began collaborating in 1996.

They were found in the last month along the Chong Chon River, 100 miles north of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

The US Eighth Army fought Chinese communist forces there in November 1950, said the Pentagon.

Thirty-five sets of remains have so far been recovered in the joint searches and three have been identified.

US officials believe it may be possible to find the remains of another 1,000-3,500 soldiers.

Washington is reportedly paying North Korea $209,000 for each excavation.

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