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Remains of U.S. soldiers returned from North Korea

Remains of American soldiers

Preliminary peace talks set for Tuesday

August 4, 1997
Web posted at: 8:28 a.m. EDT (1228 GMT)

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PANMUNJOM, Korea (CNN) -- On the eve of preliminary peace talks, North Korea on Monday handed over four sets of remains believed to be those of American soldiers killed during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The remains, in aluminum coffins, were delivered by North Korean soldiers to United Nations honor guards during a brief rain-drenched ceremony in Panmunjom on the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

Each plastic-covered casket was shrouded with a blue U.N. flag. A prayer was read in honor of the dead soldiers.

The remains, including some identification that was exhumed with them, were flown to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for forensic tests. North Korea's official media identified one of the four as "Ernandis Andrew." No more details were given.

Limited North-South phone service begins

In another apparent goodwill gesture on Monday, North and South Korea linked up their public telephone lines for the first time since the Korean peninsula was divided at the end of World War II.

The lines will allow South Korean workers preparing to build nuclear power plants in North Korea to communicate with their families and their headquarters in the South. The workers are part of a consortium formed mainly by the United States, Japan and South Korea.

The two "light-water" nuclear plants being built in the North Korean coastal city of Sinpo would replace existing reactors that the United States and South Korea charge could be used to make fuel for nuclear weapons.

Movement on peace effort

On Tuesday, the two Koreas, the United States and China are scheduled to meet in New York to set the time, place and agenda for peace talks proposed by U.S. President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young-sam last year.

The talks, being held at Columbia University in Manhattan, are aimed at forging a permanent peace settlement on the Korean peninsula to replace the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War.

Technically, the two Koreas are still at war since no peace treaty was ever signed.

The four nations may also discuss large-scale food and economic assistance to famine-threatened North Korea as part of the effort to build mutual trust between the two Koreas.

U.S.: Remains are from 1950 fighting

The remains handed over on Monday were found by a 10-member U.S. forensics team sent to the North in June. About 60 North Korean soldiers assisted in the effort.

The four sets of remains were recovered in the North's Unsan County, where about 350 Americans are thought to have been killed in fighting between U.S. and Chinese troops shortly after China entered the war on the side of North Korea.

"Recover the remains of our fallen soldiers..." -- Alan Liotta from the Department of Defense
icon 192 K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"These soldiers are members of the Eighth Cavalry First Battalion who died during fierce fighting in October of 1950," said Alan Liotta, deputy director of the Defense Department's Prisoner of War-Missing in Action Personnel Office.

About 8,100 U.S. servicemen remain unaccounted for from the war in which more than 50,000 Americans died. So far, 209 sets of remains have been returned to the United States; only seven have been positively identified.

Prior to 1996, most of the remains excavated and returned by North Korea were in too poor condition to identify. The United States asked North Korea to stop further exhumation until an agreement was made for joint recovery. That agreement, reached a year and a half ago, gave the United States access to the reclusive communist country to look for evidence of U.S. soldiers killed during the war.

Correspondent Sohn Jie-Ae and Reuters contributed to this report.

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