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North Korea turned over 11 wooden coffins Monday bearing remains of U.S. troops killed in the Korean War and said it would help search for 9,000 allied military personnel listed as missing in the conflict.

Coupled with the Communist government's recent promise to allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities, the transfer was seen as an indication of the North's desire to improve relations with Washington."We appreciate your efforts to unearth the remains," said Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., at ceremonies at this border village 30 miles north of Seoul. "This may be a historic occasion and a positive step to improve relations."

Smith said North Korea and the United States had agreed in principle to form a committee to search for the servicemen and women still unaccounted for from the 1950-53 war.

They include American, Canadian, Austrialian and British citizens.

Smith stood with his hand over his heart and watched as the coffins were handed by North Korean soldiers to an honor guard of the U.S.-led United Nations Command. A blue U.N. flag was placed on each coffin.

Three coffins included metal dogtags bearing the names: John R. Bowers, Peter Kubic and David Woodruff. The presence of dogtags did not necessarily mean the remains of the three men would be among those exchanged.