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North Korea releases 85-year-old US veteran Merrill Newman

Merrill Newman has arrived in the United States after being freed from custody in North Korea. The 85-year-old Korean War veteran had been detained for a month; US Vice President Joe Biden welcomed his release.

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US citizen released by North Korea

Speaking in the South Korean capital Seoul, Joe Biden on Saturday praised the decision to free Merrill E. Newman while simultaneously criticizing North Korea for detaining the 85-year-old.

"The DPRK today released someone they never should have had in the first place," Biden said, using the short-form of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "At least there's one bright piece of sunshine that he will be released and return to his family."

Biden, in Seoul on the last stop of his tour of Asia, also said he "played no direct role" in the North's decision to release Newman.

Newman arrived in San Francisco on Saturday around 9am local time, according to Reuters.

"I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there's a direct flight to San Francisco, so I don't blame him; I'd be on that flight too," Biden said of the California resident.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency reported on Saturday that Newman was deported "from a humanitarian viewpoint," citing his "sincere repentance," as well as his age and a heart condition. In late November, KCNA published a "confession" and "apology" from Newman.

Newman was arrested in October as he boarded a plane home in Pyongyang after a tourist visit. The 85-year-old was a US Special Forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War, working behind the line with South Korean guerrillas who remain particularly notorious in the North.

Biden on Saturday also called on North Korea to release another US citizen, 45-year-old Kenneth Bae. Bae worked as a Christian missionary in the North and was convicted in May of crimes against the state; he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

Later on Saturday, the US vice president visited the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea.

msh/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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