An 85-year-old Korean war veteran has been detained in North Korea since last month, according to his family, and the State Department has issued a blanket warning against all American travel to the closed-off communist country.
Retired finance executive Merrill Newman, from Palo Alto, Calif.,was preparing to return home after a nine-day humanitarian trip when a uniformed North Korean officer removed him from his plane without explanation, his son Jeffrey told the San Jose Mercury News
Newman had been in Korea with a neighbor and was about to return home when he was yanked from the plane on Oct. 26, Jeffrey Newman said. The younger Newman said his father had met with Korean officials the day before and had discussed his Korean War service with them.
"He's always wanted to go to North Korea. It's been a lifelong thing," Jeffrey Newman said. "Like the guys who go back to Normandy, the World War II veterans. These places had profound, powerful impacts on them as young men, and he wanted to see it again.
"There have been other Korean veterans who've been back," he said. "My dad was not breaking any new ground.
"There's some misunderstanding here, a terrible misunderstanding, and my father has always had a deep respect for the Korean culture and the Korean people," he added. "We need to see what we can do to resolve that misunderstanding and return him home."
The State Department issued a blanket warning on Tuesday against traveling to North Korea. It has long cautioned against visiting, but this was the strongest warning yet, reports The Washington Post
. The warning did not mention Newman's case, but cited "the risk of arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens in North Korea."
The case of Newman, a grandfather who retired in 1984 , is causing concern.
“There are parts of this that are, even by North Korean standards, out of the ordinary,” Dan Sneider, associate director for research at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, told San Jose's KNTV-TV.
The Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that a man who had entered North Korea on a valid visa for sightseeing and tourism purposes was arrested "for breaking the law," but gave no further details.
The U.S. has no diplomatic relationship with North Korea and Newman's family says it has been working through the State Department and the Swedish Embassy to press for his release.
Detention of of the war veteran comes about a year after North Korea detained another American
, missionary Kenneth Bae. He was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for "hostile acts."
Six other Americans including journalists, Laura Ling, have been detained since 2009.
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