SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Monday that the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War were being neglected and “carried away en masse,” in an apparent effort to pressure Washington to resume recovery efforts that could also lead to much-needed money for the impoverished country.
The United States suspended efforts to recover the remains of thousands of U.S. soldiers who died during the Korean War because of the North’s plans to launch a long-range rocket in 2012. The U.S. at the time was just starting the process of resuming excavation work that had been suspended in 2005 when Washington said security arrangements for its personnel working in the North were insufficient. North Korea would have received millions of dollars in compensation for its support of the work.
About 8,000 U.S. service members are listed as missing from the 1950-53 war, and some 5,300 of the missing are believed to be in North Korea.
On Monday, an unidentified North Korean military spokesman said in a state media dispatch that the remains of American soldiers are “left here and there uncared and carried away en masse” because of building projects, land reorganization and flood damage.
The U.S. war remains “now look like no better than stones as land rezoning and other gigantic nature-remaking projects made progress” in North Korea, the spokesman said. “The Obama administration should not forget even a moment the proverb saying that even a skeleton cries out of yearning for the homeland.”
Analyst Chang Yong Seok at Seoul National University said the North’s statement appears aimed at applying pressure to U.S. politicians and officials ahead of November elections to resume the recovery project, which could give the North a way to get foreign currency and improved ties with Washington.
The U.S. and North Korea, which don’t have formal diplomatic relations, are still technically at war because the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The U.S. stations about 28,000 troops in South Korea to help deter North Korean aggression.
North Korea has been seeking better ties with the outside world in what foreign analysts say is an attempt to lure aid and investment to help revive its moribund economy. South Korean and U.S. officials have said the North must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament before talks can resume.
There were signs of easing tension earlier this month when a group of high-powered North Korean officials visited South Korea and agreed to revive senior-level talks between the rivals. But the North last week opened fire with machine guns after activists in the South launched balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the heavily armed border. South Korea returned fire. There were no reports of injuries or damage.