Return of patriots
The remains of 12 South Korean soldiers killed in North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War were returned home Friday. It was the first time for South Korean bodies recovered in the North to be repatriated since the 1953 armistice.
Of the 12, two were identified as Army privates first class (PFCs) Kim Yong-soo and Lee Kap-soo, who joined the fratricidal war as members of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) for the 7th U.S. Infantry Division. The two soldiers lost their lives during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in South Hamgyeong Province in December 1950.
The return of the remains was made possible because they were members of KATUSA; they were identified as remains of South Korean soldiers during America’s forensic identification process.
It’s natural that they were greeted with the highest honor at a military airport in the presence of President Lee Myung-bak and top military brass. All people should pay respects to them as they sacrificed their lives for the nation and console their families, albeit belatedly.
The government should continue its efforts to confirm the identities of the remaining 10 soldiers in consideration of their devotion to their country and the suffering of their loved ones.
What should not be forgotten is how we can excavate the remnants of 30,000 to 40,000 South Korean soldiers presumed to be buried in North Korea and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) bisecting the two Koreas.
The United States is a good example for the South in its method of recovering remains. Under an accord in 1993, the United States and North Korea carried out joint excavation missions in the North between 2000 and 2004 and recovered the remains of 226 bodies. Washington halted its recovery operations in 2005 due to safety concerns of American staff but agreed with Pyongyang to resume the operations during their talks last October.
North Korea, however, has shown little sincerity to Seoul’s request for cooperation in recovering the remains of our soldiers. The two Koreas agreed to discuss the join excavation of remains during a defense ministers’ meeting in November 2007 but the issue has stalled largely because of the North’s insincerity. For this reason, the remains of 593 North Korean and 358 Chinese soldiers recovered in South Korea have not been sent to the North yet.
We urge North Korea to separate the remains recovery issue from other inter-Korean problems and respond positively to our efforts to excavate remains of soldiers on humanitarian grounds.