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Merrill Newman reads his "apology letter" in North Korea. / KCNA via AP

The detention of 85-year-old American Merrill Newman in North Korea continued for a 39th day Wednesday with little apparent progress toward gaining his freedom despite "behind-the-scenes" U.S. efforts.

Newman, an U.S. Army veteran who helped lead a band of guerrillas against the communist government during the Korean War, was completing a tourism excursion to North Korea when authorities hustled him off a plane and into custody almost six weeks ago.

Secretary of State John Kerry, queried at a news conference Tuesday in Brussels, said efforts were being made to gain Newman's freedom - as well as freedom for Americans held in Cuba, Iran and elsewhere.

"One day is too long to be in captivity," Kerry said. "This has been too long in every case, and we will do everything we can and continue to.

"But these things are often best resolved in quiet diplomacy, under the radar screen, behind the scenes. And that is exactly what we have been pursuing. ... And God willing, we will get that done sooner rather than later."

Newman was a leader of the so-called Kuwol unit in the early 1950s - fighters who were hated and feared by the communist regime. On Oct. 26, he had wrapped up a 10-day excursion in North Korea and had boarded a flight headed to South Korea to meet former Kuwol fighters when he was detained.

Dozens of the elderly former guerrillas, some carrying bouquets of flowers, were awaiting his arrival at Incheon International Airport near Seoul before news of his detention was announced. Kuwol fighters claim to have killed 1,500 North Korean soldiers and captured 600 during the war. About 1,270 Kuwol members perished, unit members say.

Newman appeared on North Korean state TV over the weekend reading an "apology" for alleged war crimes.

"I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against (the North Korean) DPRK government and Korean people," Newman read from a statement. He added, "Please forgive me."

Sweden's ambassador to Pyongyang, who looks after U.S. interests in North Korea, met with Newman at a hotel in the capital Saturday. His family says the retired finance executive living in Palo Alto, Calif., appears to be in good health.

North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, including two journalists accused of trespassing, and others, some of whom are of Korean ancestry, accused of spreading Christianity.

Contributing: Doug Stanglin; Associated Press



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Day 39: U.S. pressing N. Korea to release U.S. veteran

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