North Korea has confirmed through Swedish officials in Pyongyang that it has detained a US citizen, a State Department official has said, after reports that an 85-year-old California man was pulled off a plane as he was about to leave the country.
“Our Swedish protecting power has been informed of the detention of a US citizen,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
There has been no communication.
The family of Merrill Newman, a retiree from Palo Alto, California, and Korean War veteran, said he was taken away by North Korean officials. His wife is now begging the Korean government to send her husband back home to the US.
Newman was detained by North Korean authorities last month during a trip to the reclusive Asian nation. His son, Jeff Newman, said on Friday he has had no communication with his father since then.
“There has been no communication,” he told the Reuters news agency.
He also told Reuters in an interview that his family remained concerned about the health of his father and does not know whether heart medication sent to North Korea on his behalf had reached him.
“We remain concerned about his condition,” he said. “We’re worried about his health, and we’re anxious for him to come home.”
An infantry officer during the Korean War, the elder Newman resides in the upscale northern California community of Palo Alto and had gone to North Korea on a tourist visa.
The younger Newman said he has been in contact with the US State Department about his father’s predicament, which has drawn the involvement of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was US ambassador to the United Nations during the 1990s and is a periodic troubleshooter on North Korean issues.