News / USA

Son of US Man Held in N. Korea Says Has Not Heard From Father

Jeffrey Newman comes out of his home to make a brief comment about his father, Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran being detained by North Korean authorities, in Pasadena, California, Nov. 22, 2013.
Jeffrey Newman comes out of his home to make a brief comment about his father, Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran being detained by North Korean authorities, in Pasadena, California, Nov. 22, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— The son of an 85-year-old California retiree and Korean War veteran who was detained by North Korean authorities last month during a trip to the reclusive Asian nation said on Friday he has had no communication with his father since then.
 
Jeff Newman also told Reuters in an interview his family remained concerned about the health of his father, Merrill Newman, and does not know whether heart medication sent to North Korea on his behalf had reached him.
 
The son's comments came as a State Department official in Washington told reporters that North Korea had confirmed through diplomatic channels its detention of a U.S. citizen but did not identify the individual being held.
 
This photo provided by the 'Palo Alto Weekly' shows Merrill Newman, a retired finance executive and Red Cross volunteer, 2005.This photo provided by the 'Palo Alto Weekly' shows Merrill Newman, a retired finance executive and Red Cross volunteer, 2005.
x
This photo provided by the 'Palo Alto Weekly' shows Merrill Newman, a retired finance executive and Red Cross volunteer, 2005.
This photo provided by the 'Palo Alto Weekly' shows Merrill Newman, a retired finance executive and Red Cross volunteer, 2005.
Experts on North Korea expressed surprise that an elderly American on a sightseeing trip - one of hundreds of U.S. citizens who visit that country every year - would be singled out for detention simply for having served in the Korean War.
 
One suggested that North Korea was seeking to grab the international spotlight at a time when attention was focused on talks with Iran, perhaps as a way to manipulate the United States or China into providing food aid for the country as winter approached.
 
“It's hostage-taking,” said Steven Weber, an international affairs specialist at the University of California at Berkeley.
 
The son, who lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena, has said the elder Newman was on an airplane on the last day of his trip, Oct. 26, waiting to take off when North Korean authorities boarded and took him away.
 
The father's detention came a day after he and his tour guide had been interviewed by North Korean authorities at a meeting in which Merrill Newman's military service during the Korean War was discussed, the son told CNN on Wednesday.
 
An infantry officer during the Korean War, the elder Newman resides in the upscale Northern California community of Palo Alto and had gone to North Korea on a tourist visa for a trip that his son said was supposed to last nine or 10 days.
 
Jeff Newman has said his account of his father's disappearance was based on details relayed to him through another American resident at his father's retirement home who was traveling with him at the time. That man, Bob Hamrdla, is back in California.
 
'No Communication'
 
Appearing briefly outside his home on Friday, Jeff Newman told reporters the family has “been in regular contact with the State Department since the beginning of the detention, but we don't have any new information now.” He declined to elaborate.
 
Asked in a separate telephone interview on Friday whether he had received any word from his father since he was detained, Jeff Newman, a Los Angeles real estate executive, told Reuters: “There has been no communication.”
 
“We remain concerned about his condition. We're worried about his health, and we're anxious for him to come home,” he said.
 
The U.S. government has not directly confirmed the detention of Merrill Newman, citing privacy laws, but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday: “Our Swedish protecting power has been informed of the detention of a U.S. citizen” in North Korea.
 
“We are working in close coordination with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden to resolve this issue,” Psaki said, adding that daily requests by the Swedes for access to the detainee have yet to be granted.
 
The United States signaled through a special representative in Beijing on Thursday that the Pyongyang government could improve its strained relations with Washington by releasing any Americans held in North Korea.
 
Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae has been detained by the Pyongyang government since November 2012.
 
An estimated 1,200 to 1,500 Americans a year visit North Korea, said Andrea Lee, chief executive of Uri Tours, a New Jersey-based company that organizes tours to North Korea.
 
Daniel Sneider, an expert on the foreign policy of Korea and Japan at Stanford University, said he had never heard of North Korean authorities detaining an American tourist on vacation.
 
“We don't know why they did this or what provoked them to do it. All we know is that it's unusual, even by North Korean standards,” Sneider said.
 
Sneider said tourist trips to North Korea are “very tightly controlled” affairs typically consisting of visits “to a certain set of monuments and museums and statues.”
 
North Korea has opened up travel to foreigners during the past few years to generate revenue by appealing to an “exotic travel market” of tourists seeking out-of-the-way destinations.
 
Sneider also said that even if Newman had spoken about his time served in the Korean War, that would not necessarily explain why he was detained, given North Korea's generally indifferent attitude toward American Korean War veterans.
 
“It's not unprecedented for people who have served in the Korean War to have gone to North Korea” as tourists, Sneider said.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid