March 10, 2014
US Korean War veteran freed, returns to San Francisco
An 85-year-old Korean War veteran held by North Korea for more than a month as a war criminal arrived in San Francisco today 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 a member of the US special forces. He was released for humanitarian reasons after he apologized, the country's state news agency said.
He flew to China, where he boarded an 11-and-a-half-hour flight home. His United Airlines airlines flight landed at about 9 a.m. (1700 GMT).
Newman looked to be in good health and 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 Newman told reporters. "I'm tired but I'm ready to be with my family."
He was visiting North Korea, one of the world's most isolated and unpredictable states, as a tourist when he was pulled off an Air Koryo flight in Pyongyang minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on October 26.
A senior Obama administration official said the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang had been "heroic" in its efforts to get to see Newman but he 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.
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.
"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," North Korea's official KCNA news agency has said.
KCNA said Newman was released "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 United States quickly welcomed North Korea's decision to release Newman and called on Pyongyang to pardon another US citizen being held since November last year and release him to his family.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean American who worked as a Christian missionary, was convicted by the North in May of crimes against the state. He has been serving a 15-year hard-labor sentence.