An elderly American war veteran has been detained in North Korea for more than three weeks and there are no signs that he will be released. 85-year-old Merrill Newman was visiting North Korea with his neighbor via a guided tour business based out of Beijing, but was removed from his departing plane last month as he was set to leave the country. Newman, who served as an infantry officer during the Korean war, is the second American to be detained in North Korea.
A State Department official said in an e-mail they are “aware of reports” regarding Newman’s detainment in North Korea. “There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” they wrote. “We have no additional information to share at this time.”
The most known current detainee in North Korea is Kenneth Bae, who was arrested last November and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for what the government called “hostile acts.” His mother, Myunghee Bae, has visited her son three times since then and she was alarmed that he has lost 50 pounds in the last year.
“I was happy to see him and to hold him, but it broke my heart to leave him behind,” she said. “I am more anxious than ever to bring him home. His year-long imprisonment has taken a heavy toll not only on Kenneth but on the whole family.”
U.S officials have repeatedly called on North Korea to release Bae, but have refused to do so. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who has developed a friendship with the country’s dictator Kim Jong Un, also infamously tweeted a request to Un to release Bae earlier this year.