U.S. Urging North Korea to Free Detained American

Merrill Newman and his wife, Lee, live in a Palo Alto retirement home

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    NEWSLETTERS

    North Korea state media said Saturday that an elderly U.S. tourist detained for more than a month has apologized for alleged crimes during the Korean War and for "hostile acts" against the state during a recent trip.

    WASHINGTON (AP) The U.S. is urging North Korea to release an 85-year-old American who's been detained for more than a month.
     
    Retired finance executive Merrill Newman, who fought in the Korean War, was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave after a 10-day visit.

    Newman lives with his wife Lee in a Palo Alto retirement home.

    National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden says that given Newman's age and health-- he's on heart medication--North Korea should release him so he can be reunited with his family.

    Newman's traveling companion, neighbor and former Stanford University professor Bob Hamrdla, was allowed to depart.

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    Newman's son, who lives in Southern California, has said his father wanted to return to the country where he spent three years during the war. 

    North Korea state media claims Newman apologized for alleged crimes during the war and for "hostile acts'' against the North during his trip.

    North Korean authorities released video showing Newman, wearing glasses, a blue button-down shirt and tan trousers, reading his alleged apology, which was dated Nov. 9 and couldn't be independently confirmed. Pyongyang has been accused of previously coercing statements from detainees. There was no way to reach Newman and determine the circumstances of the alleged confession. But it was riddled with stilted English and grammatical errors, such as "I want not punish me.''

    The apology can be seen as Pyongyang taking steps needed to release Newman, said Yoo Ho-Yeol, a professor of North Korea studies at Korea University in Seoul. North Korea likely issued the confession in the form of an apology to resolve Newman's case quickly without starting legal proceedings, Yoo said.
     
    North Korea is extremely sensitive about any criticism and regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of seeking to overthrow its authoritarian system through various means _ claims the U.S. and South Korea dismiss. The State Department has repeatedly warned Americans about traveling to the country, citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

     Whatever the reasons behind the detention, it could hurt impoverished North Korea's efforts to encourage a growing tourism trade seen as a rare source of much-needed foreign currency. 
     
    Tourism is picking up in North Korea, despite strong warnings from the State Department, most recently this week. Americans travel there each year, many as part of humanitarian efforts or to find long-lost relatives or to see a closed society few outsiders get to visit.