Remains believed to be those of four American servicemen killed during the Vietnam War were loaded on a plane Tuesday and flown back to the United States for identification.
U.S. honor guards carried the four American flag-draped aluminum cases holding the remains onto the U.S. military transport plane at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. The remains were headed to a lab in Hawaii for forensic testing.
One set of remains was recovered by joint excavation teams in the northern province of Ninh Binh over the past month. The other three _ one from northern Lang Son province and the others from the Central Highlands, were handed over by Vietnamese citizens, said Ron Ward, spokesman for the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command detachment in Hanoi.
Ward said all four sets of remains are believed to belong to American servicemen who died in plane crashes.
"The relationship we currently enjoy between the United States and Vietnam was originally built using the MIA issue as a bridge," he said. "Now, of course, we have a very dynamic relationship, but the MIA issue continues to be a very important part of our bilateral relationship."
The United States and Vietnam have been working together to account for missing U.S. servicemen since the 1980s. Nearly 650 remains have been identified after being recovered from Vietnam.
Nearly 1,800 U.S. servicemen are still unaccounted for throughout Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. Some 1,335 are unaccounted for in Vietnam alone.