(CBS) -- An 85-year-old American who is a veteran of the Korean War is being detained in North Korea, CBS News has confirmed.
The San Jose Mercury News first reported that Merrill Newman, a grandfather from Palo Alto, Calif., was removed on Oct. 26 from a plane on which he was to leave North Korea.
Newman and a neighbor had visited North Korea via a tour business based in Beijing.
“We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was recently detained in North Korea,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of our highest priorities.”
Since the United States does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents the United States for issues involving Americans in North Korea.
“We are in regular, close coordination with representatives of the Embassy of Sweden,” Psaki said. “Due to privacy considerations, we have no additional information to share at this time.”
Newman’s traveling companion, Bob Hamrdla, said the detainment was “a terrible misunderstanding.”
“I hope that the North Koreans see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible,” Hamrdla said in a statement to the Mercury News.
The State Department on Tuesday issued an updated travel advisory for North Korea, recommending against all travel by U.S. citizens.
North Korea is currently holding U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who had been living in China. Bae was arrested a year ago while leading a tour group in North Korea. He was accused of planning a religious coup and sentenced in April to 15 years of hard labor. Because his health has been deteriorating, he was moved to a hospital, where his mother was allowed to visit him last month.