US urges ‘immediate release’ of elderly American held in N Korea

 US urges ‘immediate release’ of elderly American held in N Korea

WASHINGTON - The United States called Saturday for the "immediate release" of Merrill Newman, an elderly Californian detained in North Korea for alleged "hostile acts" against the reclusive, communist country.

The 85-year-old grandfather with heart problems was plucked off a plane last month as he was leaving Pyongyang following a tourist visit.

"Given Mr. Newman's advanced age and health conditions, we urge the (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

In addition to calling for Newman's "immediate release," Hayden also urged Pyongyang to free another American, Kenneth Bae.

The 45-year-old tour operator was arrested a year ago and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.

"We continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant him amnesty and immediate release," Hayden said.

"We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of the US citizens held in custody in the DPRK."

The State Department said the Swedish embassy, acting on Washington's behalf since the United States has no formal ties with North Korea, was given "consular access" to Newman on Saturday.

Earlier, Pyongyang for the first time officially admitted holding the Korean War veteran, saying he was detained for "hostile acts" after entering the country "under the guise of a tourist."

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