"Families of U.S. Korean War MIAs to meet with N. Koreans

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Delegation to ask questions Friday about soldiers' fate

May 8, 1997
Web posted at: 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- More than four decades after fighting stopped in the Korean War, family members of American soldiers still listed as missing in action will sit down face-to-face with a North Korean delegation Friday to ask questions about their loved ones' fate.

A delegation of 10 family members will meet with the North Koreans in New York, said Larry Greer, spokesman for the Pentagon's office for missing and imprisoned soldiers. The exact location is not being revealed for security reasons.

The meeting is part of a larger set of negotiations between the United States and North Korea to reach on an agreement on how to account for soldiers still classified as missing from the war.

U.S. officials have asked North Korea for access to the country's military archives and the return of the remains of soldiers believed buried in North Korea.

An excavation of bodies last June yielded one set of remains that were returned to the United States. But further excavations were canceled after a North Korean submarine carrying commandos ran aground in South Korea, souring relations.

Greer said Americans were optimistic that a formal agreement on accounting for missing soldiers would be reached prior to Friday's meeting with the families.

Questions raised about Korean MIAs taken to Siberia

War broke out on the Korean peninsula in 1950, pitting the Communist regime in the north, backed by China and the Soviet Union, against the U.S.-backed regime in the south. An armistice was signed in 1953.

In recent years, new questions about the fate of U.S. soldiers have been raised by reports that some soldiers, long believed dead, may have been sent to the Soviet Union.

Phil Mandra

Irene Mandra's brother, Phil, a Marine, disappeared in 1952. After getting information that he might have been captured, she went to Moscow and met with a Russian official who told her he had seen Mandra at a Siberian prison camp as late as 1965.

"He said it moved him so deeply to see this lone soldier just circling the courtyard," she said. "He was allowed to come out of his dungeon once a day for approximately 20 minutes. This was supposed to be his exercise."

But nothing more has been uncovered about the fate of Phil Mandra or the other missing soldiers who might have been taken to Siberia. His sister faults the U.S. government for not pressing harder for information.

"Why is it that we give billions of dollars to foreign countries, but we don't maintain a staff in Russia to look for Americans?" she said. "My country knew that men were being shipped to Siberia. Why did they allow this?"

Irene Mandra will get the chance to seek answers to her questions Friday, from the North Koreans themselves.

Correspondent Brian Jenkins contributed to this report  

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