News


North Korea 'deports' Merrill Newman

Palo Altan heads home after 'apology'

UPDATE: 9:40 a.m. Merrill Newman landed safely at San Francisco International Airport at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. He spoke briefly with reporters at the airport, saying that he is tired but, "I'm delighted to be home."

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Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old Palo Alto resident detained by North Korean authorities in October, has been released, the U.S. State Department announced Friday evening.

"Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding (and the) 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," the official Korean Central News Agency reported, according to Reuters.

Newman was taken off a plane in Pyongyang by North Korean authorities on Oct. 26, following a brief trip to the isolated East Asian nation, his family said.

Newman and his wife, Lee, live at Channing House in Palo Alto. He was traveling with a friend from Channing House, Robert Hamrdla, who was on the plane when Newman was detained by North Korean officials.

"I am totally thrilled with an exclamation point to hear of Merrill's release," he said in a voicemail message on his phone. He declined further comment.

Son Jeff Newman said at a press conference that the family was "absolutely delighted."

"We had a chance to speak briefly with Merrill, who was in Beijing after having arrived from Pyongyang. He is in excellent spirits and eager to be reunited with his family," the younger Newman said.

The State Department issued a statement praising the North Korean decision:

"We are pleased that Mr. Merrill Newman has been allowed to depart the DPRK and welcome the DPRK's decision to release him.

"This positive decision by the DPRK throws into sharper relief the continuing detention of Mr. Kenneth Bae, who has been in DPRK custody for over a year. 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. The U.S. government will continue to work actively on this case.

"We thank the government of Sweden for the tireless efforts of the Embassy of Sweden in Pyongyang, which acts as our Protecting Power in the DPRK."

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea's official name.

"Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing met Mr. Newman at the airport in Beijing and provided all appropriate consular assistance," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf tweeted.

Newman looked well and was escorted from the airport terminal in Beijing, China with two people who are possibly U.S. diplomats, according to Reuters.

"I'm very glad to be on my way home. And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK 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 told Japanese reporters at the Beijing airport, Reuters reported.

On Nov. 29, the Korean Central News Agency released a letter written by Newman apologizing for his actions as an adviser to a South Korean guerrilla group in the Korean War, 60 years ago. The news agency also released a video of Newman reading the apology.

"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," he said.

The Korean 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."

Newman was visited by the Swedish ambassador, who serves as an intermediary between the U.S. and North Korea due to the two countries' chilly relationship.

Newman advised the Kuwol Partisan Unit -- South Korean guerrillas who were among the most hated and feared in the North, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP). He gave logistical support, oversaw guerrilla actions and gave advice, but he wasn't involved in day-to-day operations, the news article stated, quoting former members of the group and analysts.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents Palo Alto, released a statement Saturday morning: "I am deeply grateful to the Administration, Ambassador Robert King and his exceptional staff, and colleagues who have from the beginning of this ordeal worked tirelessly with me to bring about Mr. Newman's release.

"Merrill and Lee Newman are beloved by the Palo Alto community, and we welcome him home with grateful hearts and open arms," she stated.

Newman's plane is expected to land at the San Francisco International Airport Saturday morning. An update about his arrival will be posted on Palo Alto Online as it becomes available.

Read past coverage about Newman's arrest and detention in North Korea.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

Comments

Posted by UC Davis Grad, a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2013 at 6:24 pm

The North Korean regime can dress it up any way it wants -- they were completely in the wrong in this case.

Having said that, I applaud the fact that Merrill Newman will be able to return to Palo Alto at last.


Posted by Stay-Away-From-North-Korea, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm

> they were completely in the wrong in this case.

Evil is always beyond wrong.

Mr. Merrill is lucky to be released this quickly.


Posted by Josh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Glad he is safe and coming home, but because of his history in the military, he should of never gone there in the first place.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 6, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Welcome back neighbor. I am so thankful to the Korean govt for your release.


Posted by Elmer Camino, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2013 at 10:56 am

What was he thinking going over there?!?!?!?! His lack of common sense led to a waste of diplomatic resources and gave the North Koreans yet another propaganda opportunity. What a shame.


Posted by The wrong guy, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 8, 2013 at 9:59 am

I suspect that the N Korean govt had mistaken him for another similarly-named veteran who had been a colonel in the same war. Why would they bother with a mere infantryman?


Posted by Third Generation, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I wasn't sure he'd come back alive. Americans naively think every country is the same as here and don't realize how good they have it here. Life is cheap in other countries. Everyone is fleeing to America to the land of the free and opportunities galore. Americans should stop being lazy and look at the opportunities available to them. There is no excuse for unemployment for a healthy person - it's the pride that stops people from working [sigh].


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