South Korean soldiers stand guard at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Photo: iStock

Washington and Pyongyang held general-level talks at the truce village of Panumunjom in the demilitarized zone on Sunday, to discuss details on the repatriation from North Korea of the remains of US soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Sunday’s talks began around 10am. Major General Michael Minihan, chief of staff for the US-led United Nations Command, led the US side at the talks. The North’s delegation included a two-star general, according to Yonhap news agency. It is unclear whether the talks will conclude Sunday or be extended.

US forces have reportedly prepared 100 caskets for the receipt of remains. According to the US government’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, as of June 2018, there were 7,699 missing in action (MIA) from the Korean War, though there is no clear geographical division between those lost in the North and those in the South.

Sixty five years after hostilities ceased, work to recover war remains is ongoing in South Korea, involving both South Korean and US units. Joint US-North Korean operations to find and recover US remains inside North Korea were halted by the George W. Bush administration.

Sunday’s meeting was originally scheduled for Thursday, but was called off by the North Korean side at the last minute.

Following closely on the apparently disputatious meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held with his counterpart Kim Yong-chol in Pyongyang on July 7-8 – the cancellation of Thursday’s meeting had sparked concerns that North Korea-US relations were deteriorating almost immediately after the historic June 12 Singapore summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

The return of US war remains were one point in the post-summit declaration. While the return of  MIA remains is not central to the core issue of denuclearization, it is seen as a test of North Korean good faith and intention.

The last general-level talks between North Korea and the United States took place in 2009, Yonhap reported.

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