North Korea releases 85-year-old US war veteran

Saturday 07 December 2013 20.17
The veteran, Merrill E Newman, flew to China from North Korea, before boarding a United Airlines flight to San Francisco to be reunited with his family
The veteran, Merrill E Newman, flew to China from North Korea, before boarding a United Airlines flight to San Francisco to be reunited with his family

An 85-year-old Korean War veteran held for more than a month by North Korea as a war criminal arrived in San Francisco to be reunited with his family.

North Korea detained Merrill E Newman for crimes it accused him of committing during the conflict six decades ago.

As he was a member of the US special forces.

He was released for humanitarian reasons after he apologised, the country's state news agency said.
              
Mr Newman flew to China, where he boarded an 11-and-a-half-hour flight home.

His United Airlines airlines flight landed at about 9am. 

Accompanied by half a dozen police officers, Mr Newman looked to be in good health.

He held his wife's hand before walking up to a podium to briefly address the press at the airport's arrivals hall.
              
"I'm delighted ... it's been a great homecoming," a smiling Mr Newman told reporters. "I'm tired, but I'm ready to be with myfamily."
              
He was visiting North Korea, one of the world's most isolated and unpredictable states, as a tourist.

He was pulled off an Air Koryo flight in Pyongyang minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on 26 October.
              
A senior Obama administration official said the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang had been "heroic" in its efforts to get to see Mr Newman.

Mr Newman suggested it was ultimately a mystery why the North Koreans chose to release him.
              
"Who knows? We can only speculate," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
              
The official added that "all efforts are now on (Kenneth) Bae," referring to another US citizen being detained by North Korea since November 2012.
              
Mr Bae, a Korean American who worked as a Christian missionary, was convicted by North Korea in May of crimes against the state.

He has been serving a 15-year hard-labor sentence.
              
US Vice President Joe Biden, who is visiting South Korea, spoke with Mr Newman after his release.

Asked by reporters in San Francisco how the food was during his detention, Mr Newman replied, "healthy," but he declined to answer other questions about his stay.
              
Asked if he would return to North Korea, he said: "Probably not."
              
Mr Newman served during the 1950-53 Korean War and worked with Korean anti-Communist guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the socialist North.
              
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the country is officially called, has called him a war criminal.
              
In Pasadena, California, Newman's son, Jeffrey, said his father was "in excellent spirits and eager to be reunited with his family."

Merrill E Newman, flew to China from North Korea, before boarding a United Airlines flight to San Francisco where he has been reunited with his family.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency earlier said he was being deported on humanitarian grounds and because he had admitted to his wrongdoing and apologised.

The DPRK - Democratic People's Republic of Korea - is the official name of North Korea, one of the world's most isolated and unpredictable states.

Mr Newman spoke briefly to his family after landing in Beijing, his son Jeffrey told reporters in Pasadena, California.

"This is a great moment for us as a family and it will beeven better when we are able to see him in a few hours," Jeffrey Newman said.

"After Merrill comes home and has a chance to get some well-deserved rest, we will have more to say about his unusual and difficult journey."

Mr Newman was a US special forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War and worked with guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the socialist North.

North Korea has called him a war criminal.

"He masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People's Army and innocent civilians," KCNA has said.

He was visiting North Korea as a tourist when he was pulled off an Air Koryo flight in North Korea minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on 26 October.

KCNA said the North had decided to let Newman leave "taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition".

Last week, KCNA published what it said was an apology by him for "a long list of indelible crimes against the DPRK government and Korean people".

The regime also released a video of Newman making the confession and apology.

Keywords: north korea