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Japan may have mistakenly taken remains of 600 foreigners in hunt for war dead, ministry admits

Kyodo, JIJI

Japan may have mistakenly collected the remains of nearly 600 non-Japanese in Russia under a long-term project to find the remains of its war dead, the welfare ministry said Thursday.

Experts have pointed to the possibility for years, but the ministry, which oversees the task, has not made the fact public or told Russian officials about it, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The remains were collected at a total of eight locations including in the province of Irkutsk and the Khabarovsk region between 1999 and 2013, according to the ministry. They were determined to probably be remains of Japanese people buried at the locations, based on Russian records and testimonies of local residents.

At meetings held by the ministry from 2005 until this year, however, DNA testing experts had been pointing out that the remains may not be of Japanese origin, which the ministry had not disclosed.

The ministry investigated the remains collected since 1999 and found that 581 sets were probably not those of Japanese people.

“We took the remains home after receiving examination results from the Russian side saying they were of Japanese people,” a ministry official said. “We don’t think we ignored (the experts’ suggestions), but we understand we can’t be exempt from blame.”

The ministry plans to conduct DNA testing on the remains in question. It will also consider how to handle the remains through consultations with the Russian side.

In a separate case, revealed in July, the remains of 16 people collected in Transbaikal Territory were identified as not those of Japanese people through DNA testing in August last year.

Japan has been collecting the remains of people who died overseas in World War II since 1952. Some 55,000 Japanese are estimated to have died during detention in Siberia and Mongolia.

Japan estimates that, as of July last year, the remains of about half of its 2.4 million war dead overseas had yet to be recovered.