Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 6, 2013

North Korea acknowledges arresting Palo Alto man

Merrill Newman was adviser to South Korea guerrillas during Korean War

by Eric Van Susteren

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 held since he was reportedly detained 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 group of guerrillas that allegedly carried out acts of espionage, sabotage and attacks against the country during the Korean War and resulted in the loss of civilian and military life.

The Kuwol Partisan Unit were South Korean guerrillas who were among the most hated and feared in the North, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP).

Newman 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.

"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 (North Korea) government and Korean People again," Newman's apology letter stated.

Former Kuwol fighters told the AP that it killed 1,500 North Korean soldiers and captured 600 alive. About 1,270 Kuwol members perished during the war.

Surviving members of the organization said that there are no members left in North Korea. After the war ended, the Kuwol guerrillas came to South Korea and haven't gone back to the North since, according to the article.

But the Korean Central News Agency stated that the reason for Newman's visit had been to contact the survivors from the Kuwol organization, although he claimed to have traveled there as a tourist.

"Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. during the Korean war," Newman's 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 Newman's family. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea.

"As a result of the visit, we know that Merrill is in good health," the family wrote in a statement. "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.

Online Editor Eric Van Susteren can be emailed at evansusteren@paweekly.com.

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