PALO ALTO — An 85-year old Korean War veteran from California has been detained in North Korea for over three weeks, his family say, having reportedly been taken off a plane as he prepared to leave the Asian enclave after a 10-day guided tour.
Merrill Newman of Palo Alto was detained by North Korean authorities on Oct. 26, just minutes before his plane was due to take off, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Relatives told the newspaper that Newman had met with North Korean officials the day before and discussed details of his war service.
More than three weeks later, little information has come from North Korea, which has yet to officially acknowledge his detention.
It remains unclear which tour company Newman was traveling with. Tours inside North Korea have grown increasingly popular with Western nationals, including Americans, although they are tightly controlled by authorities.
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A spokesman for the US embassy in China, Nolan Barkhouse, told the New York Times: “We are aware of reports that a US citizen was detained in North Korea, but we have no additional information to share at this time.”
Despite the lack of details, the US State Department issued a strict blanket warning against all travel by its nationals to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Nov. 19. The advisory cited "the risk of arbitrary arrest and detention of US citizens in North Korea."
Newman is not the first American to be detained in North Korea. Korean-American Kenneth Bae was detained by Pyongyang last year and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor, after the regime pronounced him guilty of "hostile acts."
Stanford University North Korea expert Daniel Sneider called the detention of Newman "unusual," telling the Mercury News: "It's also very unusual for the North Koreans not to acknowledge, particularly after holding the person for weeks, that they have the person.
"That may indicate that they haven't decided what to do with him yet, and therefore they don't want to admit that they've arrested him."