North Korea confirmed Saturday that an American veteran of the Korean War has been detained for “hostile acts” against the communist country and said he had released a written apology confessing to his alleged crimes.
Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old from California, was held in October after entering the North “under the guise of a tourist”, the country’s official KCNA news agency said.
It is the first time the reclusive state has officially admitted holding Newman, whose family said he was detained on October 26 shortly before take-off from Pyongyang following a 10-day tour.
KCNA said Newman had committed crimes both as a tourist and during his participation in the Korean War six decades ago and published an apology running to nearly 600 words—parts of it written in poor English—in which the American allegedly confessed to his crimes.
Newman has been accused of infringing upon the “dignity and sovereignty” of the secretive state and “slandering its socialist system, quite contrary to the purpose of the tour”, the report said.
The American had also masterminded espionage and subversive activities during the 1950-53 Korean War and was involved in the killing of North Korean soldiers and innocent civilians, it added.
“During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK [North Korea] government and Korean people,” Newman was quoted as saying by KCNA.
“I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me,” he added.
The Korean War veteran had intended to meet surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead, adding that he had asked his guide for help, said KCNA, which added that Newman had criticized North Korea during his trip.
“I will never commit the offensive act against the DPRK government and the Korean people again,” Newman said, according to the report.
Friends and relatives have said Newman, who was on an organized tour, was detained due to a “misunderstanding”.
“My father is a veteran, and wanted to see the country and culture he has been interested in for years,” Newman’s son Jeff told CNN.
The elder Newman “arranged this with a travel agent that was recommended and said was approved by the North Korean government for travel of foreigners,” the son said.
North Korea is also holding US national Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator arrested a year ago who was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor on charges of seeking to topple the government.
The court described Bae, also known by his Korean name Pae Jun-Ho, as a militant Christian evangelist who smuggled inflammatory material into the country and sought to establish a subversive base in Rason.
Last week the US special envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, urged Pyongyang to release detained American citizens, saying Washington was “working very hard” through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang “to try to move this issue along.”
The State Department recently issued an updated travel advisory urging Americans to avoid North Korea, which was reportedly “arbitrarily detaining US citizens and not allowing them to depart the country”.
Pyongyang runs one of the world’s most secretive states and independently verifying official reports is notoriously difficult.
The North’s secretive communist regime is widely thought to govern the country with an iron fist, with frequent public executions and up to 200,000 political prisoners languishing in labor camps. AFP