US holds talks in Myanmar on recovery of soldiers

Feb 24, 2012, 11:34 PM

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States has taken the first step toward resuming the search for the remains of U.S. soldiers lost in Myanmar during World War II.

The search was suspended eight years ago, but improved U.S.-Myanmar relations have resulted in a senior military official holding talks on the issue in Myanmar this week.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Bob Newberry led an interagency delegation to begin negotiations, a spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, said Friday.

Approximately 730 Americans remain unaccounted for in Myanmar, mostly U.S. air crews that went down in the rugged mountains and deep jungles of country’s north while flying supplies from India to China. The conflict ended in 1945.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged resumption of remains recovery when she made a landmark visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, in December.

Washington is stepping up its engagement with the government in response to political changes after decades of military rule.

That process is likely to gain momentum if Myanmar conducts free and fair special elections in April in which democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a candidate. The U.S. and other Western nations may then take steps to ease tough sanctions.

Newberry leads the Pentagon’s department on Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Affairs. Hull-Ryde had no details on this week’s discussions and who participated on the Myanmar side.

Seven soldiers’ remains were identified after U.S. recovery operations in 2003 and 2004, during what was a rare instance of cooperation with Myanmar’s military, which has a poor human rights record. Additional remains were recovered but have not yet been identified.

If recovery operations resume, it is unlikely to happen before next January, during the dry season in northern Kachin State, where most of the service members went missing.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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US holds talks in Myanmar on recovery of soldiers