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Washington (United States) (AFP) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday called for North Korea to release an 85-year-old pensioner and Korea War veteran who has been detained in the isolated country for more than three weeks.

Without mentioning Merrill Newman by name, Kerry told MSNBC television that his detention was one of many “disturbing choices by the North Koreans.”

Newman was on an organized tour to the North when he was detained on October 26.

“This is a misunderstanding. My father is a veteran, and wanted to see the country and culture he has been interested in for years,” his son Jeff told CNN.

Noting that Pyongyang has detained others as well, Kerry said: “This is obviously one of those moments where North Korea needs to figure out where it’s heading [and] recognize that the United States of America is not engaging in belligerent, threatening behavior.”

He added that Chinese authorities, which have close ties to Pyongyang, were being “helpful” in Newman’s case.

The elder Newman, who usually lives in a California retirement home, “arranged this with a travel agent that was recommended and said was approved by the North Korean government for travel of foreigners,” his son insisted on CNN. “He had all the proper visas.”

This week the State Department renewed its warnings to all American citizens not to travel to North Korea, saying that such trips are “not routine” and “U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.”

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