State Department trying to help local man detained in N.Korea

The U.S. State Department says it is now working through diplomatic channels to try to free a Palo Alto man being held in North Korea.
November 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The U.S. State Department says it is now working through diplomatic channels to try to free a Palo Alto man being held in North Korea. Merrill Newman, 85, is a Korean War veteran, former school teacher and Red Cross volunteer. ABC7 News takes a look at the growing concern.

The State Department says there's no greater priority than the safety of American citizens abroad. Newman's family says the diplomatic wheels are turning and all those who know him are praying for his safe return.

The Channing House is a Palo Alto retirement community where Newman and his wife live.

A friend, who did not want her face shown on camera, says she's known Newman for many years. She said he was "very active in church work, did a lot with the youth."

The veteran was on a 10-day guided tour of North Korea along with a friend from Channing House. They were waiting on a flight for home, when Newman was pulled off the plane on Oct. 26. On Thursday the State Department had few specifics to offer.

"We're working in close coordination with representatives of the embassy of Sweden to resolve the issue. But I don't have any other updates beyond that," said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.

Newman's son, Jeffrey, says this was the trip of a lifetime for his dad that went smoothly until he met with North Korean officials the day before the incident.

"The Korean War was discussed and my dad's role in the service and then the meeting concluded," said Jeffrey.

Daniel Sneider, a North Korean expert at Stanford University, says the motivation for taking Newman is unclear. He told ABC7 News, "They haven't admitted that they have him. They obviously haven't said anything publicly, they haven't filed any charges and this has been several weeks after he was detained. It's hard to know what that means, but one guess would be that they themselves haven't decided what to do."

A Channing House newsletter mentioned Newman was travelling to North Korea. A visitor says his neighbors now are worried.

Newman is the second American detained under North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Missionary Kenneth Bae has been held for more than a year.


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