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Former Livermore Teacher Detained in North Korea Allowed to Meet With U.S. Ambassador

Merrill Newman is reportedly in good health.

In this Associated Press photo posted on AOL.com, Palo Alto resident Merrill Newman is shown putting his thumb print on a four-page document that the North Korean government said was his apology.
In this Associated Press photo posted on AOL.com, Palo Alto resident Merrill Newman is shown putting his thumb print on a four-page document that the North Korean government said was his apology.

The family of an 85-year-old Palo Alto man detained for more than a month in North Korea said Saturday the Swedish ambassador has seen Merrill Newman and that he is in good health, according to news reports on AOL.com.

Newman's family in Southern California said in a statement that the State Department told them that the Swedish ambassador to North Korea had visited the Newman at a Pyongyang hotel.

"We were very pleased to hear that the Ambassador was allowed to pay this first visit to Merrill," the statement said. "As a result of the visit, we know that Merrill is in good health. ... Merrill reports that he is being well treated and that the food is good."

An Obama administration official called for his release, urging North Korea to consider his age and health conditions.

Sweden handles consular issues for Americans in North Korea as the U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic relations.

Newman's family said the ambassador's visit eased their concerns about his health, and pleaded with North Korean authorities to take his health and age into account and let him go as an act of humanitarian compassion.

The family's report came hours after North Korea state media released video showing Newman reading an apology for alleged crimes during the Korean War and for "hostile acts" against the state during a recent trip.

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."

"I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people," said the four-page statement, adding: "Please forgive me."

Newman, who lives in the Palo Alto retirement home Channing House, has degrees from Stanford and U.C. Berkeley and has taught at schools in Berkeley and Livermore.

The statement, carried in the North's official Korean Central News Agency, said the war veteran allegedly attempted to meet with any surviving soldiers he had trained during the Korean War to fight North Korea, and that he admitted to killing civilians and brought an e-book criticizing North Korea. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

It wasn't clear what will happen to Newman now. But the statement alleges that Newman says if he goes back to the U.S. he will tell the truth about the country.

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.

Newman, an avid traveler, was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour. His traveling companion seated next to him, neighbor and former Stanford University professor Bob Hamrdla, was allowed to depart.

Newman's son, Jeffrey Newman, said his father wanted to return to the country where he spent three years during the Korean War.

North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009.


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