17:15 GMT20 January 2021
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    North Korean officials were a no-show at a scheduled Thursday meeting with US officials to discuss the return of remains of American soldiers who were killed during the 1950 to 53 Korean War.

    Though the meeting has been rescheduled for July 15, the new date wasn't revealed until after officials from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency were left waiting at the militarized border between North and South Korea, Bloomberg reported.

    A source with knowledge of the meeting told the Yonhap News Agency that after a call was made to North Korea, US officials were informed that the talks needed to be upgraded.

    "North Korea apparently wants a US general to appear at the table to quickly finalize the repatriation issue," the source told the outlet. "It is likely that military generals from the US and North Korea will take part in the meeting."

    The matter of returning the remains of US troops from North Korea has long been an issue between the two countries, since the Korean War was halted by an armistice in 1953. According to the US Department of Defense, nearly 8,000 American troops that took part in the war are still unaccounted for.

    Talk of restarting the return of remains was brought to the forefront after it became one of the four points made in the joint declaration between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their historic June 12 summit in Singapore.

    Other points included the denuclearization of North Korea, improved bilateral relations and a joint effort to build a "lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."

    In preparation for the move, American officials have delivered wooden coffins and flags to Panmunjom, the village in the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas, Stars and Stripes reported.

    The latest development comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed to the Senate Appropriations Committee that North Korea had yet to begin the handover, despite Trump's claims that it had done so.

    "I am optimistic that we will begin to have two opportunities," Pompeo told US lawmakers in late June. "One is to receive some remains in the not-too-distant future, but then there's a great deal of work with companies… the nonprofits and the like that have been at this previously."

    According to Stars and Stripes, joint US-North Korean search teams were able to recover the remains of 229 US soldiers from 1996 to 2005. The administration of former US President George W Bush called off the searches in 2005 over fears that the safety of Americans in the country could no longer be guaranteed.

    The last time a handover took place was in 2007 when former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson traveled to North Korea and brought home the remains of six soldiers.


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