DEVELOPING: – An elderly U.S. tourist and war veteran detained for more than a month for alleged hostile acts against North Korea has been deported from that country, state media said.
The North’s state media says it did so because 85-year-old Merrill Newman had apologized for his alleged crimes during the Korean War and because of his age and medical condition.
It’s not clear if his confession was coerced. He was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour.
Newman, of Palo Alto, Calif., has yet to speak publicly and it was unclear Saturday where he’d been sent.
Over the weekend, Newman’s family released a statement, saying the State Department had informed them that the Swedish ambassador to North Korea visited Newman at a Pyongyang hotel Saturday and reported he’s in good health.
North Korean authorities released video showing Newman wearing glasses, a blue button-down shirt and tan trousers, reading his alleged apology, which was dated Nov. 9 and couldn’t be independently confirmed. Pyongyang has been accused of previously coercing statements from detainees, and the four-page statement Newman read was riddled with stilted English and grammatical errors, such as “I want not punish me.”
“I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people,” Newman purportedly wrote, adding: “Please forgive me.”
The statement, carried in the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, said the war veteran allegedly attempted to meet with any surviving soldiers he had trained during the Korean War to fight North Korea, and that he admitted to killing civilians and brought an e-book criticizing North Korea.
Newman “masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said, according to Reuters.
“He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them,” the news agency was quoted as saying.
During the war, Newman trained a group of partisan fighters known as the ‘Kuwol Regiment,’ or ‘Kuwolsan’ in Korean, according to a former member of that regiment, Reuters reported.
It was one of several groups of anti-communist partisans under the command of the U.S. Army 8240th Unit — dubbed the ‘White Tigers’ — which coordinated some of the most daring missions of the Korean War. The White Tigers reportedly embedded undercover agents deep in enemy territory and spied on and disrupted North Korean operations, according to documented histories of the regiment.
North Korea remains technically in a state of war with the South and with the U.S. because the war ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
Before him, North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.