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.