SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea Saturday deported an elderly U.S. tourist, apparently ending the saga of Merrill Newman's return to the North six decades after he advised South Korean guerrillas still loathed by Pyongyang.
North Korea made the decision because the 85-year-old Newman, who was detained since late October, apologized for his alleged crimes during the Korean War and because of his age and medical condition, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
"I am very glad to be on my way home," a smiling Newman told reporters after arriving at the airport in Beijing from Pyongyang. "And I appreciate the tolerance the [North Korean] government has given me to be on my way."
"I feel good," Newman said, adding with a laugh that the first thing he planned to do was "go home and see my wife."
Vice President Joe Biden, who is traveling in Seoul, welcomed the release and said he talked by phone with Newman in Beijing, offering him a ride home on Air Force Two. Biden said Newman declined because of a direct flight to his home state of California later Saturday.
Last month, Newman read from an awkwardly worded alleged confession that apologized for, among other things, killing North Koreans during the war. They were his first words since being taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour.
Newman's detention highlights the extreme sensitivity with which Pyongyang views the 1950-53 war, which ended without a formal peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula sill technically in a state of war.