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No word from American detained in North Korea, son says

4:49 PM, Nov 22, 2013   |    comments
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The son of a California retiree and Korean War veteran who was detained by North Korean authorities last month during a trip to the reclusive Asian nation said Friday he has had no communication with his father since then.

Jeff Newman also told Reuters in an interview that his family remained concerned about the health of his 85-year-old father, Merrill Newman, and does not know whether heart medication sent to North Korea on his behalf had reached him.

North Korea has confirmed through Swedish officials in Pyongyang that it has detained a U.S. citizen, but it has not granted diplomats consular access so the person's identity is not yet confirmed. However, it is widely believed to be Merrill Newman.

Because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, Sweden oversees consular issues for the United States there.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says the Swedish Embassy is daily requesting access to the American.

The son said Wednesday that the elder Newman had been on an airplane on the last day of his trip waiting to take off when North Korean authorities boarded the aircraft and took him away.

Merrill Newman's detention came a day after he and his tour guide had been interviewed by North Korean authorities at a meeting in which his military service during the Korean War was discussed, the son said.

An infantry officer during the Korean War, the elder Newman resides in Palo Alto and had gone to North Korea on a tourist visa, traveling with a fellow resident of his retirement home. That man, Bob Hamrdla, is now back in California.

Asked on Friday in a telephone interview whether he had received any word from his father since he was detained, Jeff Newman told Reuters: "There has been no communication."

"We remain concerned about his condition. We're worried about his health, and we're anxious for him to come home," he said.

The younger Newman said he has been in contact with the U.S. State Department regarding his father's predicament, which has drawn the involvement of former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the 1990s and is a periodic troubleshooter on North Korean issues.

Richardson has reached out to his North Korea contacts, a spokeswoman for his office said on Thursday. .

U.S. officials have publicly urged North Korea to release any American citizens who are being held in that country. Korean-American Christian missionary Kenneth Bae has been detained by the Pyongyang government since November 2012.

NBC News

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