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MIA recovery halted in North Korea

Pentagon officials cite 'unsafe conditions'

From Mike Mount
CNN Washington Bureau

North Korea

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon officials have temporarily halted missions in North Korea to recover remains of U.S. troops missing since the Korean War.

Citing tensions between the two countries, the Pentagon said North Korea has created "unsafe conditions" for the U.S. teams to operate inside the country.

The decision to suspend the operations was made by top-level government officials and recommended by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a senior Pentagon official said.

Recovery teams of more than 20 people rely on a liaison officer in the capital of Pyongyang to relay information outside the country, according to Pentagon officials.

These regulations have been in place since 1996.

However, the current political conditions in North Korea have left teams vulnerable, Pentagon officials said. Of particular concern is the possibility that North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test.

Talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs --involving China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States -- have been stalled for nearly a year.

Pentagon officials could not say when the MIA recovery missions would resume but said they are willing to restart them once the North Koreans have created an "appropriate environment."

The suspension of missions comes two days after a month-long mission recovered a number of U.S. remains from the Korean War. A second team was set to go back into North Korea May 28.

During 33 missions since 1996, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command recovered from North Korea more than 200 sets of remains of U.S. service members killed during the Korean War.

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