December 2nd, 2013
08:30 AM ET

U.S. Urges North Korea to Release Detained Americans

The U.S. government pleaded Saturday for North Korean authorities to release 85-year-old Merrill Newman, with a spokeswoman saying officials are "deeply concerned" about him and another American being held in the isolated East Asian nation, reports CNN's Barbara Starr.

"Given Mr. Newman's advanced age and health conditions, we urge (North Korea) to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Washington's plea came on the day North Korean state media released print stories and video showing what they called Newman's "apology."

Newman is not the only American being detained in North Korea. In her statement, Hayden also asked for the release of Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in November 2012 in North Korea.

Last May, Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after North Korea's government found him guilty of "hostile acts" and attempts to topple the government.

Bae's sister Terri Chung says her brother was working as a tour operator in the country, and “never had any ill intentions, in fact, he only wanted to help. He felt by bringing economic development to the area he was helping their economy. However, his zeal might like and his religious faith and convictions might have gotten him in trouble.” (SEE VIDEO BELOW)

Now Chung has new hope her brother will be released, saying the U.S. government tells her family it is doing everything possible to bring him home.

“It's hard to describe the kind of sheer pain and agony that our family has been enduring for the past 13 months, just uncertainty and just not having him come home especially for the holidays has been particularly difficult. This is the second Thanksgiving we spent without him and Christmas is coming up and we’re really hoping and praying that he’ll be home for Christmas.”

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