North Korea admits holding US tourist

2013-11-30 11:55
US citizen Merrill Newman, 85, reads an apology while being detained in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency, AP)

US citizen Merrill Newman, 85, reads an apology while being detained in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency, AP)

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Seoul - North Korea confirmed on Saturday that an American veteran of the Korean War has been detained for "hostile acts" against the communist country and said he had released an 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 26 October 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, a retired financial executive who served three years during the war, 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 said.

"I realise that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologising for my offensives sincerely toward the (North Korean) government and the Korean people and I want not punish me," Newman was quoted as saying by KCNA.

The Korean War veteran had intended to meet surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead, KCNA said, adding he had asked his guide for help.

He had also criticised North Korea during his trip, it said.

"I will never commit the offensive act against the DPRK government and the Korean people again," Newman said in his apology.

North Korea released video showing Newman reading his apology, which was dated 9 November.

Experts said North Korea might have issued the apology to accelerate judicial steps against Newman and resolve his case through dialogue.

"North Korea wants negotiations with the United States on his release," Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.

"The release of Newman, probably together with another American detained earlier, may come before the end of this year if Washington sends a special envoy," he said.


Friends and relatives have said Newman, who was on an organised 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 labour 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 labour camps.

Read more on:    us  |  north korea

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