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Asia-pacific

North Korea frees US war veteran after seven weeks

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-07

Pyongyang on Saturday said it had deported an elderly US man after the Korean War veteran apologised for alleged crimes committed during the 1950-1953 conflict. Merrill Newman, 85, was detained in October following a tourist visit to North Korea.

North Korea on Saturday deported an 85-year old US tourist after the Korean War veteran apologised for alleged crimes committed during the 1950-1953 conflict which ended without a formal peace treaty.

Merrill Newman from California, who had been detained since late October “for hostile acts” against the communist nation, was also released because of his age and medical condition, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

"I'm very glad to be on my way home," a visibly relieved Newman told journalists.

Newman: 'glad to be on my way'

The release came as US Vice President Joe Biden visited South Korea, the last stop on a three-country Asia tour that has already taken him to Japan and China.

"It's a positive thing they've done," Biden said during his trip to the demilitarised zone, which has split the peninsula since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Another American still in detention

But he urged Pyongyang to free another US citizen, Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator who was arrested a year ago and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.

Newman, who has a heart condition, was plucked off a plane in October as he was leaving Pyongyang following a tourist visit. His family said he was detained on October 26 shortly before take-off from the North Korean capital.

Biden's office confirmed that Newman was in Beijing, and said the Vice President had spoken to him by telephone.

"We are pleased that Mr Merrill Newman has been allowed to depart the DPRK (North Korea) and rejoin his family," US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.

She also called on Pyongyang to release Bae "as a humanitarian gesture so that he too can return home to his family".

Harf thanked the Swedish government, whose embassy acted on Washington's behalf since the United States has no formal ties with North Korea, for its "tireless efforts".

'Disguised as a tourist'

Last week Pyongyang for the first time officially admitted holding Newman, saying he was detained for "hostile acts" after entering the country "under the guise of a tourist".

North Korea had accused him of committing crimes both as a tourist and during his participation in the Korean War.

The North also claimed that Newman masterminded espionage and subversive activities during the war and was involved in the killing of North Korean soldiers and innocent civilians.

Newsman, a retired financial executive who spent time in North Korea during the war, had filmed a video apology confessing to his crimes.

The North released the footage and photos showing Newman -- dressed in a button-down blue shirt and light, wrinkled trousers -- reading the apology, which was dated November 9 and ran to nearly 600 words.

Newman, who supervised a South Korean guerrilla unit during the war, had intended to use his trip to North Korea to meet surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead.

But friends and relatives have said the grandfather, who was on an organised tour, was detained due to a "misunderstanding".

South Korean veterans who served with Newman during the war have said North Korea fabricated charges against the American.

The autocratic regime has in the past freed detained Americans after visits from high-level emissaries.

Pyongyang runs one of the world's most secretive states and independently verifying official reports is notoriously difficult.

The North's secretive communist regime is widely thought to govern the country with an iron fist, with frequent public executions and up to 200,000 political prisoners languishing in labour camps.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2013-12-07

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