Family of U.S. man detained in North Korea appeals for his release

Retired finance executive Merrill Newman is seen in a photo taken in Palo Alto, California in 2005. North Korea has detained Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California visiting the country as a tourist, pulling him off a plane as he was about to leave the reclusive nation last month, his son said. Credit: Reuters
Retired finance executive Merrill Newman is seen in a photo taken in Palo Alto, California in 2005. North Korea has detained Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California visiting the country as a tourist, pulling him off a plane as he was about to leave the reclusive nation last month, his son said.
Credit: Reuters

The California family of a Korean War veteran held in North Korean custody since last month appealed to the Pyongyang government on Friday for his safe return, calling his detention during a sightseeing trip a “dreadful misunderstanding.”

Echoing comments from their son earlier in the day, Alicia Newman also said that relatives of her 85-year-old husband, Merrill Newman, have had no word on the state of his health, whether medications sent to him were received or why he was detained.

She said her husband was seated on a flight on the last day of his 10-day trip, October 26, waiting to take off, when North Korean authorities boarded and took him away.

“The family feels there has been some dreadful misunderstanding leading to his detention and asks that the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) work to settle this issue quickly and to return this 85-year-old grandfather to his anxious, concerned family,” said Alicia Newman, who goes by the first name Lee.

The statement was issued through the retirement home where the Newmans live in the upscale northern California town of Palo Alto.

Their son, Jeff Newman, told Reuters the family remained concerned about his father’s health, saying there had been no communication with him since he was taken.

The son’s comments came as a State Department official in Washington told reporters that North Korea had confirmed through diplomatic channels its detention of a U.S. citizen, but the official did not identify the person.

Experts on North Korea expressed surprise that an elderly American on a sightseeing trip – one of hundreds of U.S. citizens who visit that country every year – would be singled out for detention simply for having served in the Korean War.

HOSTAGE-TAKING FOR ATTENTION?

One suggested that North Korea was seeking to grab the international spotlight at a time when attention was focused on talks with Iran, perhaps as a way to manipulate the United States or China into providing food aid for the country as winter approached.

“It’s hostage-taking,” said Steven Weber, an international affairs specialist at the University of California at Berkeley.

The father’s detention came a day after he and his tour guide had been interviewed by North Korean authorities at a meeting in which Newman’s service as an infantry officer during the Korean War was discussed, the son told CNN on Wednesday.

The elder Newman was in North Korea on a tourist visa, family members said.

It was a trip “he had looked forward to making for a long while,” his wife said in her statement. “The postcards sent to his friends while on the trip described good times, good weather and knowledgeable guides.”

Lee Newman said previously her husband was removed from an Asiana Airlines flight, though an official for South Korea’s No. 2 carrier said it did not have “any route to Pyongyang in North Korea.”

Jeff Newman has said accounts of his father’s disappearance were based on details relayed to him through another American resident at his father’s retirement home who was traveling with him. That man, Bob Hamrdla, is back in California.

Appearing briefly outside his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena on Friday, the son told reporters the family has “been in regular contact with the State Department since the beginning of the detention but we don’t have any new information now.” He declined to elaborate.

Newman’s detention has dismayed people close to him and his family.

“He’s a wonderful person, a very gentle and mild-mannered person,” said Douglas Adams, a member of The Fellowship Forum, a men’s club to which Newman belonged. “I don’t have the faintest idea of why he was detained.”

Mary Britton, wife of club member Melvin Britton, said she saw Newman as “adventuresome” from what she knew of him.

“He was on his sailboat in San Diego for a period of time,” Britton said.

Britton’s children went to high school with Newman’s children, she said, adding Lee and her were members of a Palo Alto gardening club and attended exercise class together.

The U.S. government has not directly confirmed the detention of Merrill Newman, citing privacy laws, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday: “Our Swedish protecting power has been informed of the detention of a U.S. citizen” in North Korea.

“We are working in close coordination with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden to resolve this issue,” Psaki said, adding that daily requests by the Swedes for access to the detainee have yet to be granted.

The United States signaled through a special representative in Beijing on Thursday that the Pyongyang government could improve its strained relations with Washington by releasing any Americans held in North Korea.

Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae has been detained by the Pyongyang government since November 2012.

An estimated 1,200 to 1,500 Americans a year visit North Korea, said Andrea Lee, chief executive of Uri Tours, a New Jersey-based company that organizes tours to the country.

Daniel Sneider, an expert on the foreign policy of Korea and Japan at Stanford University, said he had never heard of North Korean authorities detaining a vacationing American.

“We don’t know why they did this or what provoked them to do it. All we know is that it’s unusual, even by North Korean standards,” Sneider said.

Sneider said tourist trips to North Korea are “very tightly controlled” affairs typically consisting of visits “to a certain set of monuments and museums and statues.”

North Korea has opened up travel to foreigners during the past few years to generate revenue by appealing to an exotic travel market of tourists seeking out-of-the-way destinations.

Sneider also said that even if Newman had spoken about serving in the Korean War, that would not necessarily explain why he was detained, given North Korea’s generally indifferent attitude toward American Korean War veterans.

“It’s not unprecedented for people who have served in the Korean War to have gone to North Korea” as tourists, Sneider said.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.