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US-North Korea talks on MIAs open in New York

May 5, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ U.S.-North Korean talks about American servicemen missing since the Korean War broke new ground Sunday, with the two sides discussing reports that some Americans still live in North Korea, a Defense Department spokesman said.

The talks, which already have led to the return of one U.S. serviceman’s remains, also include discussion about access for U.S. researchers to North Korean military archives, said the spokesman, Larry Greer of the Pentagon’s POW-MIA office.

``The only things we talked about prior to this were joint excavations″ of suspected POW burial sites, Greer said, ``and that’s only one of the three areas we’re talking about now. Both sides are very interested in establishing a level of trust with the other.″

The talks were being held in an undisclosed location to minimize distractions, Greer said, but family members of missing U.S. servicemen were expected to meet with the North Korean representatives for the first time if, as expected, agreement is reached by the end of the week.

``That is a very significant item, in our view, that they have agreed to talk to American families, and we assume that will take place,″ Greer said.

``The family members are looking for answers and they haven’t gotten any answers after 45 years, and we hope this will be an opportunity for them to address their questions to the North Koreans.″

The U.S. delegation was headed by James W. Wold, deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners and missing personnel; the North Korean side by Ambassador Kim Byong Hong, a diplomat based in Pyongyang.

Greer said the talks were held in a ``very professional, very dignified″ atmosphere, with input from civilian and military officials on both sides.

Officials didn’t elaborate on the discussion surrounding the possibility of Americans still alive in North Korea. But in the years shortly after the war, there were reports of Americans seen alive in captivity but they never returned. And in recent months Pentagon investigators have received unsubstantiated tips that some captives may still be in North Korea.

There also are believed to be four U.S. Army soldiers in North Korea who deserted their units in the 1960s, one of whom may want to return to the United States. The North Koreans have denied there are any Americans there.

The MIA talks were interrupted last fall when a North Korean submarine full of commandos ran aground on a South Korean beach.

In 1993-94, the North Koreans turned over what they said were 160 sets of remains of missing U.S. servicemen, but American forensics teams were only able to identify eight of them.

The Americans paid the North Koreans $2 million to cover the expenses of the operation, but asked them to stop returning remains until both sides could agree on joint excavations that would make identification easier.

Wold told The Associated Press last year that the remains of 1,000 to 3,500 of the 8,140 missing American soldiers may be recoverable in North Korea.

Greer said the MIA talks were not linked to any other issue: ``Per agreement with the North Koreans, these talks are limited exclusively to the single humanitarian issue,″ he said. ``They are not to tied to food, missiles, nuclear proliferation or anything else.″

U.S. and North Korean representatives last met on March 7 for an 11-hour session on other issues, including the North’s acute food shortage. A separate round of talks involving the United States and North and South Korea scheduled for April 18 was postponed after the North Koreans didn’t show up.

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