Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged Tuesday to recover the remains of Japanese soldiers who died in the Battle of Iwojima, the majority of which remain unretrieved after more than 65 years.

“There are still many people who died in the war waiting to come back home,” Kan said during a ceremony to hand over the recovered remains to the government. “We will continue to make it the responsibility of the government to retrieve the remains of the war dead as soon as possible.”

The remains of 822 war dead on Iwojima, now called Iwoto, recovered in this fiscal year were handed over by a recovery team to the government.

They will be formally placed in the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in May.

“I deeply apologize to the war dead for having them wait for so many years,” Kan said.

About 22,000 Japanese soldiers died in the 1945 battle, but the remains of only 8,700 had been recovered as of the end of March 2010.

In the last few years, the government has been able to retrieve fewer than 100 a year.

But after a government recovery team found mass graves listed in U.S. government documents, hundreds more were retrieved, prompting Kan to upgrade the effort.

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