The United States says it's suspending efforts to recover remains of thousands of fallen service members in North Korea.
The United States was in the process of resuming operations, suspended in 2005, to trace remains missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. That had been seen as a sign of easing tensions between adversaries.
But last week North Korea announced plans to launch a rocket to fire a satellite into space, which the U.S. says would violate a U.N. ban.
Pentagon press secretary George Little says North Korea hasn't acted appropriately in recent days and weeks and "it's important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for."
He said that at some point, the U.S. hopes to restart the recovery effort.
"But when there are suggestions that they might launch ballistic missiles, when they make bellicose statements about South Korea and engage in actions that could be construed as provocative, we think that it's not the right time to undertake this effort," Little said.
A decade of search operations that led to the recovery and identification of 92 troops was suspended seven years ago, with the U.S. citing worries about the security of its personnel, The Associated Press reported. That ended the only cooperation between the militaries of the two nations, which formally remain at war because the conflict ended with a cease-fire and armistice, not a formal peace treaty.
The two sides agreed in October to a resumption of searches, which Washington said was a purely humanitarian endeavor. Under the agreement, North Korea would receive $5.7 million in compensation for search services including labor, fuel, food, transportation and security, AP reported.
A U.S. ship transported equipment for the searches to North Korea. Searches by two teams of 30 members each were expected to begin in April.
About 5,300 service members are classified as missing-in-action in North Korea, and past search efforts have offered hope for family members. Most Korean War veterans are now in their 80s and 90s.
For example, Jerome Louviere told the Houma (La.) Courier newspaper that he hoped the searches would turn up news about his older brother, Ray, reported missing in action while serving in the Korean War.
“I was 7 years old,” Jerome told the newspaper, when a letter arrived. “My mom was reading it out loud. She was very upset.” Ray, one of five sons and two daughters, would be 79 now, he said. He joined the Army with a friend.
“His buddy came back, and he didn’t,” Jerome said.
This article includes reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.
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