The California family of a Korean War veteran held in North Korean custody since last month appealed to the Pyongyang government on Friday for his safe return, calling his detention during a sightseeing trip a "dreadful misunderstanding."
Echoing comments from their son earlier in the day, Alicia Newman also said that relatives of her 85-year-old husband, Merrill Newman, have had no word on the state of his health, whether medications sent to him were received or why he was detained.
She said her husband was seated on a flight on the last day of his 10-day trip, Oct. 26, waiting to take off, when North Korean authorities boarded and took him away.
"The family feels there has been some dreadful misunderstanding leading to his detention and asks that the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) work to settle this issue quickly and to return this 85-year-old grandfather to his anxious, concerned family," said Alicia Newman, who goes by the first name Lee.
The statement was issued through the retirement home where the Newmans live in the upscale northern California town of Palo Alto.
Their son, Jeff Newman, told Reuters the family remained concerned about his father's health, saying there had been no communication with him since he was taken.
The son's comments came as a State Department official in Washington told reporters that North Korea had confirmed through diplomatic channels its detention of a US citizen, but the official did not identify the person.
Experts on North Korea expressed surprise that an elderly American on a sightseeing trip - one of hundreds of US citizens who visit that country every year - would be singled out for detention simply for having served in the Korean War.
Hostage-taking for attention?
One suggested that North Korea was seeking to grab the international spotlight at a time when attention was focused on talks with Iran, perhaps as a way to manipulate the United States or China into providing food aid for the country as winter approached.
"It's hostage-taking," said Steven Weber, an international affairs specialist at the University of California at Berkeley.
The father's detention came a day after he and his tour guide had been interviewed by North Korean authorities at a meeting in which Newman's service as an infantry officer during the Korean War was discussed, the son told CNN on Wednesday.