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Merrill Newman, American detained in North Korea, reportedly in good health

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Noth Korea Detained American

Associated Press writers Foster Klug and Eun-Young Jeong, and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The family of an elderly U.S. tourist detained for more than a month in North Korea said Saturday the Swedish ambassador has seen the man and found him to be in good health.

Merrill Newman's family in California said in a statement that the State Department told them that the Swedish ambassador to North Korea had visited the 85-year-old at a Pyongyang hotel.

"We were very pleased to hear that the Ambassador was allowed to pay this first visit to Merrill," the statement said. "As a result of the visit, we know that Merrill is in good health. ... Merrill reports that he is being well treated and that the food is good."

An Obama administration official called for his release, urging North Korea to consider his age and health conditions.

Sweden handles consular issues for Americans in North Korea as the U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic relations.

Newman's family said the ambassador's visit eased their concerns about his health, and pleaded with North Korean authorities to take his health and age into account and let him go as an act of humanitarian compassion.

The family's report came hours after North Korea state media released video showing Newman reading an apology for alleged crimes during the Korean War and for "hostile acts" against the state during a recent trip.

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."

"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."

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

It wasn't clear what would happen to Newman now. But the statement alleges that Newman says if he goes back to the U.S. he will tell the truth about the country - a possible indication that Newman could be released.

The apology can be seen as Pyongyang taking steps needed to release Newman, said Yoo Ho-Yeol, a professor of North Korea studies at Korea University in Seoul. North Korea likely issued the confession in the form of an apology to resolve Newman's case quickly without starting legal proceedings, Yoo said.

North Korea is extremely sensitive about any criticism and regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of seeking to overthrow its authoritarian system through various means - claims the U.S. and South Korea dismiss. The State Department has repeatedly warned Americans about traveling to the country, citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

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.

In a statement Saturday, Bae's family said it was thankful of the U.S. call for the release of both men. "Now we're including Mr. Newman in our prayers," the family said.

Whatever the reasons behind the detention, it could hurt impoverished North Korea's efforts to encourage a growing tourism trade seen as a rare source of much-needed foreign currency.

Tourism is picking up in North Korea, despite strong warnings from the State Department, most recently this week. Americans travel there each year, many as part of humanitarian efforts or to find long-lost relatives or to see a closed society few outsiders get to visit.

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krisnjd12 December 02 2013 at 8:34 PM

I ardently support releasing Mr.Newman, but prior to going on his trip shouldn't he have know that in North Korea there is extremely high anti-american sentiment, especially towards America soldiers. I understand that soldiers want to see the lands where they fought, but why go at a time when there is much political hostility. As an alternative, he could have visited South Korea and received special discounts and tours for being a Korea War Veteran. I hope for the best for Mr. Newman and for his safe return.

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heart2survive krisnjd12 December 02 2013 at 8:47 PM

He went with a GROUP of seniors on a tour of N. Korea. I haven't read he was carrying a book. Now THAT would have been a very bad idea. Still, why hold an old man, those cowards.

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1 reply
leegfan heart2survive December 02 2013 at 8:58 PM

I would guess, as paranoid as they are, they probably assume that most Americans are spies.

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rnrinnie1 December 02 2013 at 7:13 PM

Why cant we just trade mr. newman for dennis rodman? he seems to like it over there and we would be rid of his foul mouth.

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Roberta rnrinnie1 December 02 2013 at 7:31 PM

Sounds like a deal to me!

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lhoward914 rnrinnie1 December 02 2013 at 9:10 PM

Can we us a pumpkin chucker to deliver Rodman?

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nthereoff December 02 2013 at 7:10 PM

Why would anyone in his right mind visit No Korea? Hope he gets release soon, If not he will be making little rocks from big one for a long time. Bad move.

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Jayne December 02 2013 at 7:08 PM

Ludicrous. Just shows how ignorant and dangerous the N. Korean government is. Neither of the men should have there in the first place.

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sue1mar3 December 02 2013 at 7:06 PM

I am pretty amazed that North Korea allows American into the country even.

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Fred December 02 2013 at 6:49 PM

Come on Kerry, lets see what kind of stomp you have.

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stephanie feldma December 02 2013 at 6:42 PM

some of you and your comments seem as though your acting and thinking just like the North Koreans!!! SMH!!! I pray he gets to finally come home!!

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princeofpearls December 02 2013 at 6:17 PM

WHY IS THIS THE FIRST TIME THAT I HAVE HEARD ABOUT THIS PRISONER? ( AND I DO KEEP UP ON WORLD EVENTS) Yea, I read the previous comments, and agree that he had no business going in there in the first place, and the lack of prudence in US management of citizens allowed into hostile countries. Some fairly insightful comments on the Rodman thing also. However, the guy is there, a prisoner, and a vet to boot. Let's get him out and clamp the door shut on this happening again.

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mmcdona484 December 02 2013 at 6:05 PM

This is the dumbest thing I ever heard. Not only did a former Korean veteran go into a crazy country that had contracts out for lots of soldiers during the war. He took a book with contact names of people he worked with. Why do you think they waited until he was leaving to arrest him? Everyone he contacted is probably being lined up and shot. Hello America, N Korea has an INSANE government. Don't give them the opportunity to get bribes from Washington to those stupid enough to go to get them out. Hello State Dept. why do you let people go into a hostile country? Start doing your job and protect these stupid people from themselves.

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flgilbert1025 December 02 2013 at 7:19 PM

Mr. President: Get on the phone with China,s president and tell him the American people expects him to request North Korea to release the war veteran with-in 48 hours. If we the citizen's don't see action we will request you Mr. Obama to close our biggest sea port to China's imports. Each day that China stalls another port will close in the USA to China's imports. We don't need to be pushed around by the little Fat Lunnie in North Korea. Vietnam Veteran and proud of it.

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2 replies
bigcatdaddy flgilbert1025 December 02 2013 at 7:23 PM

Great if obama would do that but he won't. We need to bring this man home, he is being held in an unlawful manner. Thank you for your service.

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1 reply
craig bigcatdaddy December 02 2013 at 8:00 PM

the Vice president is over there and is going to visit japan, China and S.korea... Biden will bring him home.. he had no business going into the tourist area over there anyways.. did nothing but cost this country time and money.. that said.. they are working on it...

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craig flgilbert1025 December 02 2013 at 8:02 PM

but that would shut down Walmart !!! i like it !

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