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
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
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".