North Korea detains 85-year-old California man

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On October 26, an 85-year-old American man, Merrill Newman, on an organized tour of North Korea was pulled off a plane in Pyongyang just minutes before it was to depart, the man’s son told CNN on Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department is working to resolve the matter with North Korea’s top ally, China.

North Korea has not publicly acknowledged it detained Newman. But the family believes the elder Newman’s military service during the Korean War may be related to his detention, his son said.

Park Syung-je, chairman of the Seoul-based Asia Strategy Institute, says Newman may have been arrested on espionage charges. As a Korean War veteran, Newman might have told his minders he fought against North Korea. They may have reported it, and it resulted in his detention.

In 1999, a South Korean woman named Min Young-mee was detained for six days after apparently saying the wrong thing on a tour to North Korea’s Kumkang Mountains. “I hope the two Koreas reunite soon so we can visit each other,” Min said. “North Korean defectors are living well in the South.”

A North Korean minder for the tour group reported her remarks to North Korean authorities. She wasn’t allowed to return home with her tour group. After a written apology for violating North Korean laws, she safely returned to the South.

Newman is the second American being held in North Korean. Kenneth Bae, an American citizen, was arrested in November 2012 and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor.


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2 thoughts on “North Korea detains 85-year-old California man

  1. Grant Montgomery on said:

    Elsewhere, it’s reported that according to Merrill Newman’s traveling companion, Newman earlier had a “difficult” discussion with North Korean officials about his experiences during the 1950-53 war between U.S.-led United Nations forces and North Korea and ally China.

    That war ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically at war. And the war is still an important part of North Korean propaganda, which regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of trying to bring down its political system – statements analysts believe are aimed in part at shoring up domestic support for young leader Kim Jong Un.

    Since 2009, North Korea has detained at least six Americans, often for doing missionary work, but it is unusual for a tourist to be arrested. Analysts say North Korea has used detained Americans as diplomatic pawns in a long-running standoff with the United States over the North’s nuclear bomb production, something it denies.

  2. Grant Montgomery on said:

    December 3 update – Six decades before he went to North Korea as a tourist, AP reports that Merrill Newman supervised a group of South Korean guerrillas during the Korean War who were perhaps the most hated and feared fighters in the North, former members of the group say. Some of those guerrillas were interviewed this week by The Associated Press, who remember Newman as a handsome, thin American lieutenant during the later stages of the 1950-53 war.

    North Korea apparently remembered him, too. The 85-year-old war veteran was detained in Pyongyang after being forced off a plane set to leave the country Oct. 26 after a 10-day trip. He appeared this weekend on North Korean state TV apologizing for alleged wartime crimes in what was widely seen as a coerced statement.

    Turns out Newman was scheduled to visit South Korea to meet former Kuwol fighters following his North Korea trip. Park Boo Seo, a former member of the Kuwol partisan unit, says the unit is still loathed in Pyongyang and glorified in Seoul for the damage it inflicted on the North during the war.

    Park said about 30 elderly former guerrillas, some carrying bouquets of flowers, waited in vain for several hours for Newman’s arrival at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Oct. 27 before news of his detention was released.

    Newman has yet to tell his side of the story, aside from the televised statement. According to his televised statement, Newman’s alleged crimes include training guerrillas whose attacks continued even after the war ended, and ordering operations that led to the death of dozens of North Korean soldiers and civilians. He also said in the statement he attempted to meet surviving Kuwol members.

    Former guerrillas in Seoul said Newman served as an adviser for Kuwol, one of dozens of such partisan groups established by the U.S.-military during the Korean War. They have a book about the unit that Newman signed, praising Kuwol and writing that he was “proud to have served with you.” The book includes a photo of Newman that appears to be taken within the last 10-15 years.

    Adds Bruce Cumings, a history professor specializing in Korea at the University of Chicago, “Newman was very naive to discuss his partisan background with the North Koreans. The South Korean partisans were possibly the most hated group of people in the North, except for out-and-out spies and traitors from their own side.”

5 references to “North Korea detains 85-year-old California man

  1. […] U.S. government pleaded Saturday for North Korean authorities to release 85-year-old Merrill Newman, with a spokeswoman saying officials are “deeply concerned” about him and another […]

  2. […] Korea on Saturday deported an elderly U.S. tourist, apparently ending the saga of Merrill Newman‘s return to the North six decades after he advised South Korean guerrillas still loathed by […]

  3. […] An 85-year-old American man detained and later let go by North Korean authorities described his time in custody as comfortable. […]

  4. […] words were not mine.” Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Californian man held in 2013 after mentioning to his tour guide that he fought in […]

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