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North Korea releases Merrill Newman

Palo Altan heads home after 'apology'

Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old Palo Alto resident detained by North Korean authorities earlier this fall, 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 October 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.

Newman's family has not yet released a public statement.

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 inBeijing met Mr. Newman at the airport in Beijing and providedall appropriateconsular assistance," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf tweeted.

Newman looked well and was escorted from the airport terminal in Beijing, China with two men 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 were 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.

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

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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