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The remains of 16 Japanese soldiers who died in the 1939 Battle of the River Halka near the border between Mongolia and northeastern China were delivered to the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery on Thursday.

A Japanese government team collected the remains over the past two weeks. The remains of seven were found in 2001 and 2002, but at that time Mongolia did not allow them to be taken to Japan, so they were temporarily buried there.

Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials said DNA and other forensic tests will be carried out for identification. Identified remains will be handed over to relatives; those that cannot be identified will be interred in the national cemetery, they said.

The River Halka battle, known in Japan as the Nomonhan Incident, raged from May to September 1939 between Japanese troops and Soviet and Mongolian forces around the border between Mongolia and what was then Japanese-occupied Manchuria in northeastern China.

Some 8,000 Japanese soldiers died in the battle. The Japanese military recovered some 4,500 of their dead, and left the remaining bodies around the border area.

In January, Mongolia for the first time gave permission for Japan to collect and bring home the remains.

When we dug up the remains, I strongly wondered what these men had to die for,” said Yoshiaki Shimada, 68, head of a group of relatives of those who died in the battle and a member of the team that collected the remains.

“I held the remains up to the window in the bus when we returned to Japan so that (the spirits) could see the landscape,” he said. “I think they are happy.”

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