The US called on North Korea on Saturday to release an elderly US veteran, held in custody since last month, and who Pyongyang has accused of killing civilians during the Korean War 60 years ago.
Merrill Newman, an 85-year old former special forces officer, is in good health, his family said in a statement after getting an update on his condition from Swedish diplomats who had visited him in the North Korean capital on Saturday.
“He has received the medications that we sent him and medical personnel are checking on his health several times a day. Merrill reports that he is being well treated and that the food is good,” the family said.
Sweden’s North Korean embassy provides consular help to the US, which has no mission there.
The family, based in California, called on North Korea to release Newman, who has a heart rhythm disorder, as an act of compassion, taking into account his health and his age.
“All of us want this ordeal to end and for the 85-year-old head of our extended family to be with us once more,” the family said.
Swedish embassy officials were granted access on Saturday to visit Newman, the US Department of State said, the first access by Western officials to him since his arrest.
Newman was detained at the end of a trip to North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The DPRK has no diplomatic relations with the US which fought alongside South Korea in the 1950 to 1953 war.
“Given Mr. Newman’s advanced age and health conditions, we urge the DPRK to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family,” a Department of State official said in a statement.
The White House also urged Newman’s release in a brief statement.
On Saturday, the state KCNA news agency showcased Newman as a criminal, showing a video of him making a full confession and apology, as if the battles of the Korean War were still raging.
KCNA said Newman had been a mastermind of clandestine operations and confessed to being “guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people.”
Newman, who lives in a retirement community in Palo Alto, California, was pulled off an Air Koryo flight in North Korea minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on Oct. 26.
His wife, Lee Newman, told CNN that her husband went to North Korea to “put some closure” on his time during the US military.
She said it was “an important part of his life.”
In Pasadena, California, a yellow ribbon was attached to the front door of Jeff Newman, Merrill Newman’s son, as a symbol the family was waiting for his return home.
KCNA gave no indication of what might happen to Newman.
North Korea is also holding another American, Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, who is of Korean decent and was arrested last year and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor on charges of committing hostile acts against the state.
The White House also expressed concern for Bae and renewed its call for his release on Saturday.