North Korea Frees Elderly American After Holding Him for More Than a Month

Photo released by North Korea's official news agency KCNA shows U.S. citizen Merrill Newman inking his thumbprint onto a written apology while under detention in Pyongyang, Nov. 9, 2013.

North Korea has freed an octogenarian American tourist after detaining him for more than a month on charges of "hostile acts" for his role in the Korean war, where he served as a soldier working with guerrillas fighting Pyongyang, according to reports.

Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Californian grandfather with heart problems, was detained on Oct. 26 as he was about to leave Pyongyang for Beijing following a tourist visit.

Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed Newman had committed crimes both as a visitor and during his participation in the Korean War six decades ago, saying he had issued an apology confessing to the alleged acts.

Pyongyang decided to send him home after he apologized for his alleged crimes during the Korean War and in consideration of his age and medical condition,  KCNA reported.

"I'm very glad to be on my way home," Newman told Japanese reporters while on a stopover in Beijing, according to Reuters news agency.

"And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way."

DPRK, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is the official name of North Korea.

Looking healthy

Newman looked healthy in pictures taken of him at the Beijing airport. He later left the terminal with two men believed to be U.S. diplomats.

"I feel good, I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife," said Newman, who was a U.S. special forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War and worked with guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the North.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is on a visit to South Korea, welcomed Newman's release, saying the North had released someone it should never have held in the first place, the Associated Press reported from Seoul.

North Korea has a history of allegedly coercing statements from detainees.

Biden called on Pyongyang to release Kenneth Bae, another U.S. citizen in the North's custody.

Bae, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after the country's Supreme Court found him guilty of "plotting to overthrow the government.”

The American tour operator and Christian missionary has been held in the country for more than a year.

'Humanitarian gesture'

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf urged Pyongyang to pardon the 44-year-old Bae "as a humanitarian gesture."

Newman's release "throws into sharper relief the continuing detention of Mr. Kenneth Bae, who has been in DPRK custody for over a year," she said.

"We call on the DPRK once again to pardon and grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediately release him as a humanitarian gesture so that he too can return home to his family. The U.S. Government will continue to work actively on his case."

Reported by RFA's Korean Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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