North Korea said Saturday that it had arrested 85-year-old Palo Alto resident Merrill Newman for "hostile acts" against the country during the Korean War. It was the first time the country publicly acknowledged that Newman had been detained since he was reportedly arrested as he tried to leave the country on Oct. 26.
The statement came in the form of a letter released by the North Korean state-run media organization Korean Central News Agency. The letter, which the agency stated was written by Newman, apologized for his involvement as an adviser for a paramilitary organization that allegedly carried out acts of espionage, sabotage and attacks against the country during the Korean War that resulted in the loss of civilian and military life.
"Although I committed the indelible offensive acts against the Korean people in the period of the Korean War, I have been guilty of big crimes against the DPRK government and Korean People again," the letter stated.
Newman had traveled to the country as a tourist, and the news agency stated that the reason for his visit had been to contact the survivors -- and the family of the survivors -- from the organization he had allegedly advised during the war, more than 60 years ago.
"Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. (the organization he allegedly was an adviser for) during the Korean war," the letter stated. "Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendants because it was too hard for me to do myself."
The letter, which was dated Nov. 9, did not state whether Newman would be released. It does contain a plea for forgiveness, however, and states: "If I go back to USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading."
The Swedish Ambassador in North Korea was able to visit Newman on Saturday, Nov. 30, at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, according to a letter released by his family.
Under the U.S.-DPRK (North Korean) Interim Consular Agreement, North Korea is supposed to notify the Swedish Embassy within four days of an arrest or detention of a U.S. citizen and will allow consular visits by the Swedish Embassy within two days after a request.
"As a result of the visit, we know that Merrill is in good health," the family wrote. "He has received the medications that we sent him and medical personnel are checking on his health several times a day. Merrill reports that he is being well treated and that the food is good."
The family wrote that the focus now is on returning Newman home.
"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 wrote.