U.S. War Vet Detained in N. Korea Arrives in Calif.

North Korea cited Newman's age and medical condition in allowing him to leave the country

By HAVEN DALEY
|  Saturday, Dec 7, 2013  |  Updated 2:30 PM EDT
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Eighty-five-year-old Korean War veteran Merill Newman arrives at San Francisco International Airport after North Korea freed him Saturday.

Eighty-five-year-old Korean War veteran Merill Newman arrives at San Francisco International Airport after North Korea freed him Saturday.

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RAW VIDEO: Merrill Newman at Beijing Airport

Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing met Merrill Newman at the airport in Beijing.
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An 85-year-old U.S. veteran of the Korean War who was detained for several weeks in North Korea arrived home Saturday in California.

Merrill Newman landed in San Francisco on a flight from Beijing.

"I'm delighted to be home," Newman said. "I want to thank the Swedish embassy in Pyong Yang and the American embassy in Beijing for all their help. It's been a great homecoming and I'm tired, but ready to be with my family now -- and thank you all for the support we got and I very much appreciate it."

Newman, who was accompanied by his wife, Lee, and son Jeff, was asked as he walked away if he would consider going back to North Korea. "Probably not," he replied, according to NBC News.

The Korean War vet was detained in late October at the end of a 10-day trip to North Korea, a visit that came six decades after he oversaw a group of South Korean wartime guerrillas during the 1950-53 war.

Last month, Newman read from an awkwardly worded alleged confession that apologized for, among other things, killing North Koreans during the war. Analysts questioned whether the statement was coerced, and former South Korean guerrillas who had worked with Newman and fought behind enemy lines during the war disputed some of the details.

North Korea cited Newman's age and medical condition in allowing him to leave the country.

Earlier Saturday, a smiling Newman told reporters in Beijing that he felt good and was glad to be on his way home.

"And I appreciate the tolerance the (North Korean) government has given to me to be on my way," he said after arriving at the airport in Beijing from Pyongyang, adding that he looked forward to seeing his wife.

MORE: Statement from North Korea State Media

Newman's detention highlighted the extreme sensitivity with which Pyongyang views the war, which ended without a formal peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war. The conflict is a regular focus of North Korean propaganda and media, which accuse Pyongyang's wartime enemies Washington and Seoul of carrying on the fighting by continuing to push for the North's overthrow.

The televised statement read last month by Newman said he was attempting to meet surviving guerrilla fighters he had trained during the conflict so he could reconnect them with their wartime colleagues living in South Korea, and that he had criticized the North during his recent trip.

Members of the former South Korean guerrilla group said in an interview last week with The Associated Press that Newman was their adviser. Some have expressed surprise that Newman would take the risk of visiting North Korea given his association with their group, which is still remembered with keen hatred in the North. Others were amazed Pyongyang still considered Newman a threat.

Newman's son, Jeffrey, said he spoke briefly with his father from Beijing and that he was "in excellent spirits and eager to be reunited with his family."

"As you can imagine this has been a very difficult ordeal for us as a family, and particularly for him," he said in a statement read outside his home in Pasadena Friday night, adding that they will say more about this unusual journey after Newman has rested.

Newman's release comes as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visit to the region brought him to Seoul. Biden said Saturday that he welcomed the release and said he talked by phone with Newman in Beijing, offering him a ride home on Air Force Two.

 

Statement from U.S. State Department:

We are pleased that Mr. Merrill Newman has been allowed to depart the DPRK and re-join his family. We welcome the DPRK’s decision to release him.

This positive decision by the DPRK throws into sharper relief the continuing detention of Mr. Kenneth Bae, who has been in DPRK custody for over a year. 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.

We thank the Government of Sweden for the tireless efforts of the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which acts as our Protecting Power in the DPRK.


Statement from North Korea state media:

Pyongyang, December 7 (KCNA) -- As already reported, a relevant institution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)  detained and investigated U.S. citizen Merrill Edward Newman who entered the DPRK under the guise of a tourist to confirm the whereabouts of the spies and terrorists who had been trained and dispatched by him, an intelligence officer, during the last Korean War. According to the investigation, Newman entered the DPRK with a wrong understanding of it and perpetrated a hostile act against it. 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, the above-said institution deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint.

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