A U.S. Air Force aircraft transported the remains of dozens of service members killed in the Korean War to South Korea from North Korea on Friday, a move expected to help reinvigorate a peace-building process.
U.S. officials received the remains at an airport in the communist nation's eastern port city of Wonsan earlier in the day.
The White House immediately hailed it as "momentum for positive changes" by the communist nation in line with the bilateral summit agreement in Singapore on June 12.
The C-17 Globemaster cargo plane appeared in the air over the Osan Air Base, a U.S. military installation in Pyeongtaek, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul, flanked by two fighter jets, minutes before 11 a.m. and soon landed after about an hourlong flight.
The White House confirmed that the jet was containing the remains of fallen service members.
It did not reveal the number of remains, while informed sources said around 55 sets of remains in wooden boxes were repatriated.
The United Nations Command, led by the U.S., said in a statement later that 55 sets of remains were returned.
Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, chief of the command and U.S. Forces Korea, said the mission was successful and added, "Now, we will prepare to honor our fallen before they continue on their journey home."
President Donald Trump expressed his gratitude for the North's leader, saying it's a "great moment for so many families after so many years."
"Thank you to Kim Jong Un," he tweeted.
The South Korean government called it "meaningful progress" conducive to building mutual trust.
"(We) expect efforts by parties concerned to further accerlerate for promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said in a statement.
He added Seoul will also push for consultations with Pyongyang on the return of South Korean soldiers' remains.
The Defense POW (Prisoners of War)/MIA (Missing in Action) Accounting Agency will inspect the remains before a formal repatriation ceremony slated for next Wednesday. And then the remains will be sent to a forensic lab in Hawaii.
The repatriation came as the two Koreas and the United States marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that halted the Cold War conflict.
It is part of the four-point summit accord between Trump and Kim on building new relations, making joint efforts to establish a "lasting and stable" peace regime, and pursuing the complete denuclearization of the peninsula.
"Today's actions represent a significant first step to recommence the repatriation of remains from North Korea and to resume field operations in North Korea to search for the estimated 5,300 Americans who have not yet returned home," Trump's office said.
The remains were apparently excavated before the Singapore talks, in which Trump and Kim committed to "recovering POW/MIA remains."
It heralds the resumption of the war remains recovery program that came to a halt 11 years ago.
The project to recover the remains started in 1990 when Pyongyang was eager to improve ties with Washington. The North handed over more than 400 sets of remains to the U.S. (Yonhap)