North Korea freed an 85-year-old retired American soldier yesterday after detaining him for more than a month for crimes it said he committed during the Korean War six decades ago.
The veteran, Merrill Newman, flew to China from North Korea in the morning. Hours later he left on a United Airlines flight to San Francisco to be reunited with his family, sources at Beijing airport said.
North Korea’s KCNA news agency earlier said he was being deported on humanitarian grounds and because he had admitted to his wrongdoing and apologized.
“I’m very glad to be on my way home,” Newman told Japanese reporters as he arrived at Beijing airport. “And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way. I feel good, I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife.”
Newman spoke briefly to his family after landing in Beijing, his son Jeffrey told reporters in Pasadena, California.
“He is in excellent spirits and eager to be reunited with his family,” Jeffrey Newman said.
“This is a great moment for us as a family and it will be even better when we are able to see him in a few hours,” he added, reading from a prepared statement.
“After Merrill comes home and has a chance to get some well-deserved rest, we will have more to say about his unusual and difficult journey,” he said.
A witness later saw US embassy officials at the departure gate as the flight to San Francisco boarded.
Sources at the airport said he was accompanied by a US consular official on the 11-and-a-half hour flight, which was scheduled to arrive in California yesterday morning.
Newman was a US special forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War and worked with guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the socialist North.
North Korea has called him a war criminal.
He was visiting North Korea as a tourist when he was pulled off an Air Koryo flight in North Korea minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on Oct. 26.