North Korea deports US war veteran Merrill Newman - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

North Korea deports US war veteran Merrill Newman

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By Becky Bratu, Staff Writer, NBC News

North Korea has deported 85-year-old American war veteran Merrill E. Newman "from a humanitarian viewpoint" after more than a month in detention, the state news agency reported Saturday.

The U.S. State Department welcomed the North's decision, releasing the following statement late Friday: "We are pleased that Mr. Merrill Newman has been allowed to depart the DPRK and re-join his family. We welcome the DPRK's decision to release him."

DPRK is short for the North's official name: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Upon landing in Beijing, Newman told NBC News he wanted to see his wife, but he also expressed his gratitude to North Korea for releasing him and said he was pleased to be out.

Newman, who had been visiting North Korea as a tourist, was held in Pyongyang since officials took him off an Air Koryo plane that was scheduled to leave the country on Oct. 26.

Vice President Joe Biden, who received the news of Newman's release while on a visit in South Korea, welcomed the North's decision.

"It's a positive thing they've done," Biden said.

The vice president added that he had offered to fly Newman home on his plane.

"I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there's a direct flight to San Francisco, so I don't blame him, I'd be on that flight too," Biden told reporters. 

The war vet, who suffers from a heart ailment and is in need of medication, is a retiree from Palo Alto, Calif. 

"Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, the above-said institution deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint," the North's official Korean Central News Agency wrote on Saturday. 

A statement published by KCNA last week said that during a recent visit to the country, Newman attempted to meet with surviving soldiers he had trained during the Korean War to fight North Korea, admitted he was "a criminal" who was involved in the killing of civilians during the 1950-53 Korean War, and carried an e-book criticizing North Korea.

Newman "masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People's Army and innocent civilians," KCNA said. "He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them." 

In a separate dispatch, KCNA carried what it said was a statement of apology by Newman, made after being detained. The alleged apology was dated Nov. 9.

Hours after the alleged apology was made public, Obama administration officials appealed for his release, citing his "advanced age and health condition."

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, had also called on Pyongyang to free Newman.

Newman's family also made several appeals to the North for the veteran's release. Last Saturday, the family released a statement asking the DPRK to take into account Newman's age and health.

"We are asking that the DPRK authorities take into account his health and his age and, as an act of humanitarian compassion, allow him to depart immediately for home," the family statement read.

In order to secure Newman's release, the U.S. State Department worked with Swedish officials who represent American interests in North Korea. The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, so Sweden handles consular issues for the United States in the Asian nation.

North Korea has been holding another U.S. citizen -- a Christian missionary of Korean decent, Kenneth Bae -- who was arrested last year and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor on charges of committing hostile acts against the state.

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