North Korea has detained an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from California visiting the country as a tourist, pulling him off a plane as he was about to leave the reclusive nation last month, his son said.
Merrill Newman, a retiree from Palo Alto, California, was taken away a day after he and his tour guide spoke with North Korean authorities at a meeting in which his military service in Korea was discussed, his son, Jeff Newman, said in a CNN interview on Wednesday.
The U.S. government has not directly confirmed the detention, citing privacy laws.
Glyn Davies, the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, said: “We are calling on North Korea, as in the Kenneth Bae case, to resolve this issue and let our citizens go free.”
Bae, a Korean-American missionary, has been held in North Korea since November 2012 and has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
The elder Newman and his traveling companion went to dinner that night, he told CNN, and “the next morning, they got up, checked out of the hotel, went to the airport, got on a plane. Apparently five minutes before they were ready to depart, an authority came on the plane … asked to see my dad’s passport, and he was asked to leave the plane.”
A recent newsletter from Channing House, the Palo Alto retirement home where Merrill Newman lives, identified his traveling companion as another resident, Bob Hamrdla, and said the two were to be accompanied by Korean-speaking guides at all times on their 10-day trip.
“There has to be a terrible misunderstanding. I hope that the North Koreans will see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible,” Hamrdla said in a brief statement released by Channing House on Wednesday that provided no further details.
Newman’s son said his father had arranged his trip with a travel agent said to have been approved by the North Korean government for travel by foreigners and that he “had all the proper visas.”
The elder Newman served as a U.S. infantry officer in the Korean War, later worked as a manufacturing and finance executive and retired in 1984, according to a biography of him in a February 2012 newsletter from Channing House.