North Korea has deported an 85-year old American, who has been detained for over a month on charges of “hostile acts” against the communist state.
The deportation of Merrill E. Newman was announced on Saturday by the North’s KCNA news agency. The latest image obtained by Al Jazeera showed Newman arriving in Beijing.
“I’m very glad to be on my way home,” Newman told reporters in China. ”I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way.”
“I feel good, I feel good,” he said. “I want to go home to see my wife.”
The release came as Joseph Biden, United States vice president, visited South Korea, the last stop on a three-country Asia tour that has already taken him to Japan and China.
“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.
Biden said he had no direct role in securing his release.
Biden also urged North Korea 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.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Beijing, said that Newman is now on his way to the US.
“Very little has been said here, and Newsman’s presence in Beijing has been low-key,” McBride said.
Marie Harf, a spokesman of the US State Department, said the US government welcomes the release of Newman, thanking the Swedish government for negotiating the deal.
Like Biden, Harf also urged the North Korean government to release Bae.
“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,” Harf said.
Meanwhile, Newman’s son told Reuters his father is in “excellent spirits” after his release.
Jeffrey Newman told reporters outside his home in Pasadena that the family spoke briefly with his father afther he arrived from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
“He is in excellent spirits and eager to be reunited with his family,” Newman said.
Newman, who was a US special forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War, and worked with guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the socialist North, has been held by North Korea since late October.
He was visiting North Korea as a tourist when he was pulled off an Air Koryo flight minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on October 26.
KCNA said Newman was deported on humanitarian grounds, “taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition”.
North Korea had accused Newman of being a criminal who took part in the killings of innocent civilians during the war. Last week, KCNA published what it said was an apology by him for “a long list of indelible crimes against the DPRK government and Korean people”.
South Korea’s foreign ministry welcomed Newman’s release, and analysts in Seoul said Pyongyang had freed him in a bid to facilitate dialogue with Washington.
“North Korea knows that the detention of a sick, old man will aggravate relations with the United States,” Dongguk University professor Kim Yong-Hyun told AFP. “His release reflects Pyongyang’s intention to facilitate dialogue with Washington,” he added.
DPRK is the official name of North Korea – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The regime also released a video of Newman making the confession and apology.
Newman lives in a retirement community in Palo Alto, California.