Wife of US man held in N Korea makes Thanksgiving appeal

LOS ANGELES - The wife of a US retiree detained in North Korea for nearly a month fought back tears as she appealed Monday for his release in time for this week's Thanksgiving holiday.

Merrill Newman, 85, from California, was taken off a plane as he was about to leave the reclusive state on October 26, and there has been no word since about his fate.

His wife Lee said her husband has heart problems and needs more medication, adding that his family has sent a package of drugs - the second since his detention - which they hoped would reach him soon.

"We ask respectfully for them to release him and let him come home," she told CNN, referring to North Korean authorities.

"We're looking forward as a family to being together on Thanksgiving, and we need to have Merrill back at the head of the table for the holidays," she added. The US holiday is this Thursday, November 28.

Asked if she had a message for her husband, she choked back tears, saying: "We're missing you. We want you home."

In a statement issued Friday, she said her husband of 56 years, a Korean war veteran, was detained shortly before takeoff in Pyongyang, after finishing a 10-day tour of North Korea, "a trip he had looked forward to making for a long while."

"The postcards sent to friends while on that trip describe good times, good weather and knowledgeable guides," she said in the statement issued by the retirement complex where the couple lives in Palo Alto, near San Francisco.

Her new appeal came after the US State Department confirmed Friday that North Korea has acknowledged that it is holding Newman, but has so far barred Western officials any access to the detainee.

Since Washington and Pyongyang have no diplomatic ties, the Swedish Embassy represents US interests in the country, acting as a kind of go-between. The reclusive North is also holding US national Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator arrested a year ago as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason.

He was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.

The court described Bae, also known by his Korean name Pae Jun-Ho, as a militant Christian evangelist who smuggled inflammatory material into the country and sought to establish a subversive base in Rason.

North Korea has in the past freed detained Americans after visits from high-level emissaries.