US urging North Korea to release detained Palo Alto man

The U.S. is urging North Korea to release an 85-year-old Palo Alto man who's been detained for more than a month.
November 30, 2013 4:36:03 PM PST
A Palo Alto man remains trapped in North Korea. Late Friday night, Merrill Newman read a statement apologizing for his actions during the Korean War. Despite the alleged apology, there's hope he could come home.

The 85-year-old was arrested for what the North Korean government calls "hostile acts." Experts have reviewed the new video to determine what it means.

Yellow ribbons are being tied outside the Palo Alto retirement facility where the 85-year-old lives. They're a symbolic wish for his safe return home,

"I think it's horrible," said Newman's friend Harry Anisgard. "What could anybody that's 85, what harm could he do?"

The newly released video is the first anyone has seen of the Palo Alto resident since he was detained by the North Korean government more than a month ago.

North Korean authorities released the video. It shows Newman wearing glasses, a blue button-down shirt and tan trousers while reading his alleged apology, which was dated Nov. 9 and couldn't be independently confirmed.

"I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people," Newman purportedly wrote in a four-page statement, adding: "Please forgive me."

He went on to say, "They collected information of the KPA and attacked the communications system and killed three innocent operators."

Pyongyang has been accused of previously coercing statements from detainees. There was no way to reach Newman and determine the circumstances of the alleged confession. But it was riddled with stilted English and grammatical errors, such as "I want not punish me."

In the video Newman also said, "I can understand that in U.S. and western countries there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK."

DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

The statement, carried in the North's official Korean Central News Agency, said the war veteran allegedly attempted to meet with any surviving soldiers he had trained during the Korean War to fight North Korea, and that he admitted to killing civilians and brought an e-book criticizing North Korea.

In the video, Newman promises to tell the truth about North Korea if they let him go.

Experts like Stanford Professor Dan Sneider say that's an encouraging sign.

"I'm hoping that the forced apology, which the North Koreans extracted from him, is a prelude to him being released," Professor Sneider said.

Newman, an avid traveler and retired finance executive, was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour. His traveling companion seated next to him, neighbor and former Stanford University professor Bob Hamrdla, was allowed to depart.

Newman's son, Jeffrey Newman, said his father wanted to return to the country where he spent three years during the Korean War.

North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, including two journalists accused of trespassing and others, some of whom are of Korean ancestry, accused of spreading Christianity. Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary and tour operator, has been detained for more than a year. North Korea sees missionary work as a Western threat to its authoritarian government.

In Washington, Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the U.S. remains "deeply concerned about the welfare" of Bae and Newman and urged North Korea to release both men immediately.

"Given Mr. Newman's advanced age and health conditions, we urge the DPRK to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family," Hayden said.

The State Department recommends against travel by all U.S. citizens to North Korea.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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