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US veteran held in N. Korea says captivity was comfortable

SAN FRANCISCO--A day after arriving home to California, the 85-year-old U.S. veteran detained for weeks by North Korea said Sunday that he was well-fed and kept comfortable in a hotel room, not a jail cell.

Merrill Newman spoke briefly with the Santa Cruz Sentinel outside his vacation home steps from the beach in Santa Cruz, a coastal community south of San Francisco. Newman and his wife also live in a Palo Alto retirement home.

He was detained in late October at the end of a 10-day trip to North Korea, a visit that came six decades after he oversaw a group of South Korean wartime guerrillas during the 1950-53 war.

Newman told the newspaper “that's not my English” when asked about the video North Korean state media released last month showing him reading an awkwardly worded alleged confession apologizing for, among other things, killing North Koreans during the war.

Analysts questioned whether the statement was coerced. Newman hasn't discussed the circumstances of the alleged apology, but it was riddled with stilted English and grammatical errors, such as “I want not punish me.”

The former South Korean guerrillas who had worked with Newman and fought behind enemy lines during the war disputed some of the details of the statement.

Newman also said Sunday that his wife is now in charge of his passport when asked if he planned any more international travel.

Newman cut short the impromptu interview after a few questions.

The veteran's family didn't respond to an email from The Associated Press requesting an interview. His son, Jeff Newman, said the family planned to talk about Newman's experience in greater detail sometime later after he has recuperated.

Newman arrived at San Francisco International Airport from Beijing shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday and was greeted by his wife, son and friends.

“I'm delighted to be home,” he said. “It's been a great homecoming. I'm tired, but ready to be with my family.”

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Merrill Newman, center, walks beside his wife Lee, left, and his son Jeffrey after arriving at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, Dec. 7.

(AP)

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