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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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nthereoff December 03 2013 at 8:34 AM

I'm thinking about a trip to Somalia is it safe?

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woodydesear December 03 2013 at 12:29 AM

Why would anyone want to return to a place they spent fighting a war?? Hmmm maybe I will go visit the hospital I nearly died in from hemoraging after child birth. Why not go to South Korea and visit the people you were there to liberate.

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medgoldie December 03 2013 at 12:02 AM

ALL TRAVEL TO N KOREA SHOULD BE SUSPENDED AND ANYONE WHO GOES THERE IS FOOLISH OR BETTER YET VERY STUPID, IF IT CAN HAPPEN TO ONE MAN IT WILL HAPPEN TO OTHERS, WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE AMERICANS UNDERSTAND?
ANY THE REST OF THE TRAVELING PEOPLE SHOULD ALSO STOP TRAVELING TO N KOREA
AND CUT THE MONEY SUPPLY OFF ONCE AND FOR ALL
MIKE G

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barryaclarke December 02 2013 at 11:57 PM

Hmmm, what seems good for the goose should be good for the gander. Thus, any and all North Koreans that leave their country should be detained especially if they are of an age where they could have fought in the Korean war, let say when they were about12 or older. Then they should be made to write a letter of apology for the American lives they took. Let us see how “Little Kim“ likes those apples……………

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jasper8887 December 02 2013 at 11:57 PM

North Korea sees missionary work as a Western threat to its authoritarian government.

Amazing! The Obama Regime has the same fears which is why they too keep attacking our Constitutional rights.

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1 reply to jasper8887's comment
patrick December 03 2013 at 12:12 AM

Jasper stick to the subject. Obama not the subject, it's North Korea you Redneck......

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jaspatore December 02 2013 at 11:55 PM

Clearly this string is not aware of the thousands of American service men and women who have traveled to country's that they faught against to seek closure/forgiveness/understanding for themselves.

Only someone who has taken the life of another understands this, it's a hateful and and vengful fool who believes that their is good and evil in the world. Every human being wants the same thing, we all want to be happy and to feel safe.

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1 reply to jaspatore's comment
johnjazzmn December 03 2013 at 2:22 AM

Jaspatore, learn to spell...it's "there" is good and evil in the world. Also, it's "countries" that they "fought". If you can't take the time to spell words correctly, how do you expect people to take your opinions seriously?

I understand Mr. Newman's desire to return to Korea... many older people wish to visit a place that has played an important part in their lives, especially if it is a place that caused a major change in their lives. It's a shame that the North Koreans would not leave him to make peace with himself and instead are using him as a propaganda spokesperson for them. They have been doing things like this...watch the original "Manchurian Candidate" to see how they would use POW's.They know that the Western World will never believe the detainee's word, but they can show it to their own people for justification of their attitude against the Western World.

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godug December 02 2013 at 11:38 PM

This guy KNEW exactly what he was getting into. I cannot justify the actions of the DPRK...they are a brutal and vicious Communist regime who deserve to wiped off the face of the earth. But, if you are stupid enough to put yourself in that position, it is difficult for me to feel too sorry for you.

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dsbroyles December 02 2013 at 11:34 PM

It took North Korea over 30 days to break an 85-yr-old man...I'm betting that their dictator couldn't hold out 30 minutes in a similar situation...

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Steve December 02 2013 at 11:31 PM

First, when is the U.S. going to get him out of there? Do what it takes, these colors don't run or burn! Second, it is good that someone saw him and he appears to be well; however this person is not a doctor (that I know of) and without a complete physical there is no way to actually know for a fact if he is in good health. North Korea is going to mess around once too often and eventually will find out the rest of the world is tiring of them. Even China, which has often used the turmoil there to their own benefit doesn't care much for them anymore.

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3 replies to Steve's comment
Greg December 02 2013 at 11:25 PM

Anyone can see how dangerous Newman is, especially to the N. Koreans! He's 85 years old and well fed. This something that can't occur in N. Korea unless you belong to the slave owners class.
(That's someone who's got connections in the government.)

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