Bones given by North Korea 'may not even be American'
The 55 sets of human remains handed over by North Korea to the United States may include troops from other nations that fought in the Korean War after it was confirmed only one identification tag was included with the bodies.
A US defence official told the Associated Press it will probably take months, if not years, to identify the troops with any certainty.
As the remains were due to land on US soil for the first time yesterday, John Byrd, director of scientific analysis at the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the US agency that deals with soldiers missing in action, said preliminary findings suggested "they are likely to be American remains" as they were consistent with those repatriated in the past.
"But I would caution to keep in mind it's not necessarily the case that the dog-tag goes with the remains in the box," he said.
There are no further details about the military dog-tag handed over when a US military aircraft flew to Kalma Airport, near the North Korean city of Wonsan, on Friday. The aircraft returned to the US Air Force base at Osan where the remains were handed over to representatives of the DPAA.
The caskets containing the remains are being flown to the agency's laboratories at the Pearl Harbour-Hickam military base in Hawaii for full forensic examinations to begin.
The remains in each box may not be those of a single person and are likely to be fragments of bones, said Paul Cole, an expert on recovery of soldiers missing in action and prisoners of war, who worked as a visiting scientific fellow at Hawaii's Central Identification Laboratory.
"Problems such as inability to get DNA from bones and lack of a DNA reference sample from the family can be major stumbling blocks," added Chuck Prichard, director of public affairs for the DPAA.
US defence secretary Jim Mattis said the return of the remains was a positive step, but there were no guarantees they were of US military personnel.