N. Korea says it has deported detained U.S. tourist

11:04 PM, Dec 6, 2013   |    comments
Image released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows US citizen Merrill Newman, reading a document, which North Korean authorities say was an apology written by Newman, North Korea
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By Melanie Eversley
USA TODAY

An 85-year-old U.S. tourist and war veteran has been deported by North Korea more than a month after being detained for alleged hostile acts, and was in China Saturday.

Merrill Newman told reporters as he stopped in Beijing that he was happy to be returning home to Palo Alto, Calif., after being pulled from a plane leaving Pyongyang by North Korean forces.

"I'm very glad to be on my way home," Newman said. "I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) government has given to me to be on my way. I feel good. I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife."

Newman appeared healthy in photos taken of him at the Beijing airport and walked off with two men believed to be U.S. diplomats, Reuters is reporting.

The State Department released a statement expressing approval with the move by North Korea.

"We welcome the decision to release him," read the statement from Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman.

North Korean state media says officials decided to release the veteran and tourist because he apologized for his alleged war crimes, and because of his age and medical condition.

It's not clear if Newman's confession was coerced. He was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour.

Vice President Joe Biden praised North Korea for releasing Newman.

"The DPRK today released someone they never should have had in the first place, Mr. Newman," Biden said.

The vice president addressed reporters during his visit to South Korea.

"I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two," Biden said of a telephone call with the former detainee.

Biden later explained the State Department told him there was a direct commercial flight to the San Francisco area.

"I don't blame him. I'd be on that flight too," Biden said.

About a week ago, analysts told USA TODAY that they predicted Newman would soon be released, particularly after his confession.

North Korea will "take advantage of this incident to show to the USA and the whole world North Korea's intention to have good relations with the USA," Park Young-ho, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, told USA TODAY.

Before Newman, North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009.

A former group of South Korean guerrillas say Newman advised them as they fought behind enemy lines during the war. Some members have expressed surprise that Newman would take the risk of visiting North Korea given his role with their group, which is still loathed and remembered in the North.

Biden and Harf both said North Korea should now look toward releasing Kenneth Bae, a South Korea native and U.S. citizen who is the longest serving American detainee in North Korea since the Korean War.

"We call on the DPRK once again to pardon and grant Mr. Bae special amnesty and immediately release him as a humanitarian gesture so that he too can return home to his family," Harf said in her statement. "The U.S. government will continue to work actively on his case."

Harf also thanked the government of Sweden for its diplomatic efforts with North Korea.

Calum Macleod, reporting from Beijing, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

USA Today

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