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North Korea releases US war veteran

07 December 2013, 15:08

Seoul - North Korea on Saturday deported an American veteran of the Korean War, two months after he was detained for "hostile acts" against the communist country.

US officials said Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old from California, arrived in Beijing after being freed.

North Korea deported him "from a humanitarian viewpoint", its official Korean Central News Agency said, citing his "sincere repentance" as well as his age and health condition.

The release came as US vice president Joe Biden visited South Korea, the last stop on a three-country Asia tour that has already taken him to Japan and China.

"The DPRK (North Korea) today released someone they should never have had in the first place, Mr. Newman," Biden said.

"It's a positive thing they've done," Biden said during his trip to the demilitarised zone, which has split the peninsula since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Another US citizen still detained

But he urged Pyongyang to free another US citizen, Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator who was arrested a year ago and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.

Biden said Bae was being held for "no reason" and "should be released immediately".

Newman, who has a heart condition, was plucked off a plane in October as he was leaving Pyongyang following a tourist visit. His family said he was detained on 26 October shortly before take-off from the North Korean capital.

Biden's office confirmed that Newman was in Beijing, and said the vice president had spoken to him by telephone.

"I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there's a direct flight to San Francisco, so I don't blame him, I'd be on that flight too," Biden told reporters.

Newman told reporters at Beijing airport that he was "very glad to be on my way home", according to the South's Yonhap news agency.

Asked about the first thing he planned to do, the veteran said he would "go home and see my wife", Yonhap said.

"We are pleased that Mr Merrill Newman has been allowed to depart the DPRK and rejoin his family," US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said.

She also called on Pyongyang to release Bae "as a humanitarian gesture so that he too can return home to his family".



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