One day after refusing to hand over remains believed to be those of U.S. soldiers, North Korea on Saturday accused Washington of playing politics over the return of remains.
U.S. military officials representing the American-led U.N. Command waited at the border village of Panmunjom on Friday to recover two sets of remains believed to be those of U.S. soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. But the North Koreans never showed up.North Korea said Saturday it did not hand over the remains because the United States wanted them to be transferred through the U.N. Command rather than taking them over directly.
"We will never accept the unreasonable demand prompted by a political purpose," said the statement issued by the North Korean military's mission to Panmunjom, a truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.
The statement was carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
The North's insistence on dealing directly with the United States reflects its policy of undermining the U.N.-monitored armistice. North Korea wants to replace it with a peace treaty signed with Washington.
Washington insists that such a treaty must be signed between the two Koreas.
Earlier repatriations of remains had been conducted through the U.N. Command, which oversees the armistice that ended the Korean War. U.S. military officials on Friday accused North Korea of reneging on an agreement.
But North Korea said a U.S. Defense Department delegation must take over any remains, citing an agreement signed with the department in December.
More than 50,000 American soldiers were killed helping South Korea in the Korean War, and about 8,100 of them are still unaccounted for.
North Korea began repatriating remains in 1990. In 1996, it began allowing U.S. forensic experts to search for remains in its territory, together with North Korean assistants.
So far, 216 sets of remains have been returned, but less than a dozen have been positively identified.