Return of possible remains by North Korea boosts diplomacy

A UN honor guard carries a box containing remains believed to be from American servicemen killed during the 1950-53 Korean War after arriving from North Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon. Pool)
Updated 28 July 2018
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Return of possible remains by North Korea boosts diplomacy

  • Trump thanks North Korean leader for “fulfilling a promise” to return the remains of US soldiers
  • Close to 7,700 US soldiers remain unaccounted for from the 1950-53 Korean War

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for “fulfilling a promise” to return the remains of US soldiers missing from the Korean War, as a US military plane made a rare trip into North Korea to retrieve 55 cases said to contain remains.
Close to 7,700 US soldiers remain unaccounted for from the 1950-53 Korean War, and about 5,300 of those were lost in North Korea.
North Korea’s move signals a positive step in Trump’s diplomacy with Pyongyang, and may restart efforts to send US teams into the country to search for additional war dead.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cautioned that the transfer of remains “is separate” from what has so far been troubled efforts to negotiate the complete denuclearization of North Korea. But he said it was a step in the right direction following the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.
“This is obviously a gesture of carrying forward what they agreed to in Singapore and we take it as such,” Mattis told reporters Friday. “We also look at it as a first step of a restarted process. So we do want to explore additional efforts to bring others home.”
Despite soaring rhetoric about denuclearization before the Singapore meeting, the summit ended with only a vague aspirational goal for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how that would occur.
Subsequent talks between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials got off to a rocky start earlier this month, with the North accusing the Americans of making “unilateral and gangster-like” demands on denuclearization. On Wednesday, Pompeo said a great deal of work remains ahead of a North Korea denuclearization deal, but he declined to provide any timeline.
Trump, addressing reporters on the South Lawn, said Vice President Mike Pence would greet the families and the remains of the soldiers.
“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,” Trump said.
“These incredible American heroes will soon lay at rest on sacred American soil,” he added.
Pence, the son of a Korean War combat veteran, said in a statement that he will participate in the ceremony when the remains arrive in the US United Nations Command said the remains will be flown to Hawaii immediately after a full honors ceremony in Seoul on Wednesday.
“It is deeply humbling to be part of this historic moment,” Pence said. “We will never forget the sacrifices these brave service members and their families made for our nation and our freedoms.”
Early Friday morning in Korea, a US Air Force C-17 transport plane made a rare trip into North Korea to retrieve 55 cases of what are believed to be remains from the Korean War. The aircraft then flew from Wonsan to Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, near the South Korean capital of Seoul.
At the air base, US servicemen and a military honor guard lined up on the tarmac to receive the remains, which were carried in boxes covered in blue UN flags. Officials in North Korea had no comment on the handover, which came on the 65th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
Once the cases arrive in Hawaii, a series of forensic examinations will be done to determine if the remains are human and if the dead were American or allied troops killed in the conflict.
Mattis underscored that looming question, saying “we don’t know who’s in those boxes.” But he said the gesture is important for families of the fallen, which could include any of the allies that also fought in the war.
“We have families that when they got the telegram, have never had closure,” Mattis said. “They’ve never gone out and had the body returned.”
More than 36,000 US troops died in the conflict, including those listed as missing in action.
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. South Korea’s Defense Ministry also said the North agreed to general-level military talks next week at a border village to discuss reducing tensions across the countries’ heavily armed border.
The remains are believed to be some of the more than 200 that North Korea has held in storage for some time, and were likely recovered from land during farming or construction. The vast majority of the war dead, however, have yet to be located and retrieved from cemeteries and battlefields across the countryside.
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 a previous US claim that security arrangements for its personnel working in the North were insufficient.
From 1996 to 2005, joint US-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains. The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former UN ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.
Washington has said Pyongyang wouldn’t get sanctions relief and significant security and economic rewards unless it firmly commits to a process of completely and verifiably eliminating its nuclear weapons. There are lingering doubts about whether Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish his nukes, which he may see as a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurance the United States could offer.


Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Updated 22 February 2019
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Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

  • Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama ‘Empire,’ went from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month
  • Smollett accused of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions

CHICAGO: An American TV actor was criminally charged Thursday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama “Empire,” go from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary.”

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan along with racist slurs during the purported attack.

“‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally-charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city’s image.

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

Smollett turned himself in early Thursday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted $100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late in the afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

His legal team pushed back hard later Thursday, claiming the police press conference had been prejudicial and “the presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” attorney Jack Prior told AFP in a statement.

“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollett had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at the actor for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?“

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce “Empire” and had stood by the actor, said “we understand the seriousness of this matter” and “are considering our options.”

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on “Empire,” and were acquaintances of the actor — while one provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Prosecutor Risa Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed check that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern day lynching.”

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible.”

Since then, Smollett’s story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgment, and politicians, celebrities and nonprofit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating.”

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.