North Koreans holding American, officials say

Swedish Embassy rebuffed in requests for access to Palo Altan Merrill Newman

There has still been no contact with Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old Palo Altan whose family and friends say has been held in North Korea since Oct. 26, and U.S. State Department officials said the Swedish Embassy has not been allowed access to him.

North Korean officials say they have detained an American, but State Department officials still will not confirm that person is Newman.

Newman, a Korean War veteran who had traveled with a friend to North Korea as part of a tour group for pleasure, was removed from an airplane headed to Beijing, China, just five minutes prior to takeoff. He has not been heard from since.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said little can be revealed because the department does not have a Privacy Act waiver from Newman. The United States does not have a diplomatic relationship with North Korea, and the Swedish Embassy in North Korea handles cases related to Americans who are detained, ill or who have died in the country.

Swedish officials there have been informed by North Korea of the detention of a U.S. citizen, she said, and the State Department is working with the Swedes on Newman's case. Psaki did not, however, mention Newman by name during a press briefing on Friday, Nov. 22.

Swedish officials have requested consular access to Newman on a daily basis, but Psaki indicated that access has not been granted. She did not know what date the North Koreans informed Swedish officials that they had Newman -- they are supposed to notify the Embassy within four days. She also did not reveal if the North Koreans have said why they are holding Newman.

Newman has a heart condition, and his son, Jeff Newman, told CNN that Swedish officials gave his medication to North Korean authorities, but he did not know if his father had received his medicine. Newman had a meeting with North Korean officials the day before his arrest, and he was asked about his war record during the Korean War, Jeff Newman said.

On Thursday, Newman's wife, Lee, released a statement regarding the incident:

"My husband of 56 years and veteran of the Korean War, Merrill E. Newman, wound up a 10-day tour of North Korea on October 26 -- completing a trip he had looked forward to making for a long while. The postcards sent to friends while on that trip describe good times, good weather and knowledgeable guides.

"Just before the Air Koryo flight was to depart for Beijing on that Saturday, Merrill, already seated, was approached by a Korean official and escorted off the plane. He has been detained somewhere in North Korea since that time. We have had no word on the state of his health, whether or not the medications sent to him through the Swedish Embassy in North Korea have been delivered or why he was detained.

"The family feels there has been some dreadful misunderstanding leading to his detention and asks that the DPRK work to settle this issue quickly and to return this 85-year-old grandfather to his anxious, concerned family."

UPDATE: On Nov. 25, Lee Newman sent an additional statement: "We were heartened to hear that the DPRK has advised the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang that they are holding an American citizen who clearly appears to be Merrill Newman.

"We remain concerned about his well-being. We hope the DPRK will quickly confirm that he is being looked after, is in good health, and that he has received his medication. We also hope that it will be possible to resolve this misunderstanding so that he can quickly rejoin his family."

She also corrected her previous statement that her husband was on an Asiana Airlines flight. He was on Air Koryo, as has been corrected in this story.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm. . .
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Hmmm. . . fly on Asiana Airlines to North Korea and talk about the Korean War to a Korean . . .

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm

The flight Mr. Newman was likely not Asiana Airlines - as a South Korean air carrier, they do not maintain a flight route to the DPRK. Other media reports states he was removed from an Air Koryo aicraft, which is the DPRK National Carrier. The only other international airlines that fly out of Pyongyang on a regular basis is MIAT Mongolian Airlines and Air China.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Given that the US and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations established, and every couple of months North Korea’s leadership makes claims about going to war with either South Korea, or the US, one has to wonder why North Korea has not been quarantined by the US government, restricting travel by US citizens to that country for their own safety.

Given the clearly unreasonable restrictions on personal freedom of tourists—not to mention the North Koreans themselves—until the Kim family rule has been replaced with a more civilized form of government, this is really no place for Americans to be wandering around.

Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I read something somewhere that made sense to me. The North Korean Government, if you can call such imbeciles a government, looks for ways to create crises. These "crises" are carefully arranged to elicit concessions in their favor by Western officials.

If you want to understand North Korea, I recommend a book entitled "Nothing to Envy" by Barbara Demick.

Like this comment
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Maybe Obama should stop worrying about using taxpayer dollars to drum up money for the Democrat Party in SF this week and head to the Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea, And bring our Veteran home.

Like this comment
Posted by Think!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

People should use their brains and not travel to hostile locations and risk forcing the US government to waste valuable resources and political leverage to save them.

My heart goes out to Mr. Newman and his family, and I will pray for his release. I will also pray that other Korean War veterans, and Americans in general, will not put themselves in harms way by traveling to North Korea - a well-known and hostile adversary.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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