Donald Trump thanks Kim Jong-un for returning remains of American soldiers killed in Korean War

Donald Trump on Friday praised the return of "fallen heroes" from North Korea back to the US as he publicly thanked Kim Jong-un for "keeping his word". 

An American military plane arrived in South Korea on Friday morning carrying what is believed to be the remains for 55 US servicemen killed during the Korean War.

The handover is a concrete sign the North Korean leader is following through on a commitment he made to the US president during their June meeting in Singapore.

However the number falls short of the 200 set of remains Kim reportedly assured Mr Trump he was willing to return.

The issue had become emblematic of concerns about whether the Pyongyang regime is sincere in its desire to follow through and whether Mr Trump has exaggerated concessions won. 

During a press conference at the White House Mr Trump said praised the return  "of some great fallen heroes from America back from the Korean War." 

"We have many others coming but I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me and I’m sure that he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search and search and search," Mr Trump said. 

He added: "these incredible American heroes will soon lay at rest on sacred American soil."

United Nations honour guards carry boxes containing remains believed to be from American servicemen killed during the Korean War after their arrival from North Korea, at Osan Air BaseCredit:
Ahn Young-joon/AP Pool

The C-17 Globemaster had left the Osan base, some 50 miles south of Seoul, before 6am and flown to Kalma Airport, outside the North Korean city of Wonsan, to collect the remains.

The US president​ declared at a rally last month that the North had already handed over the remains of 200 “fallen heroes”, although that was quickly denied by the United Nations Command in South Korea.

The US Air Force transport aircraft was flanked by two fighter jets as it completed its flight back to the Osan base, where the remains were handed over to representatives of the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Officials of the organisation are to conduct an initial examination of the remains before a formal repatriation ceremony is held on August 1, when the remains will be flown to a forensic laboratory in Hawaii to undergo tests in an attempt to identify the men.

Mike Pence, the US Vice President, will join families to welcome the remains back to American soil.

US soldiers salute vehicles transporting the remainsCredit:
Kim Hong-ji/AFP

The repatriation of remains could be followed by stronger North Korean demands for fast-tracked discussions to formally end the war, which was stopped with an armistice and not a peace treaty. 

Efforts to recover American war dead had been stalled for more than a decade because of a standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program and American fears that security arrangements for its personnel working in the region were insufficient.

Despite soaring rhetoric about denuclearisation immediately following the two leaders’ historic meeting, the North had latterly accused  the Americans of making "gangster-like" demands.

Friday’s good will gesture follows reports last week that the North had begun to dismantle a missile engine test site, in a sign of an intention to improve ties with Washington. 

The White House said: “Today’s actions represent a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home."

Officials in North Korea made no comment on the handover on Friday, which coincided with the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that brought the Korean War to an uneasy conclusion.

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North Korea used the occasion to repeat its demand that the US and the other nations that made up the United Nations Command sign a peace treaty to formally end the conflict.

An important holiday on the North Korean calendar, flowers were laid before monuments to North Korean and Chinese troops killed in the war and signs were placed in public areas celebrating the North’s “victory” in the three-year conflict.

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