BEIJING -- North Korea said Saturday the 85-year-old Korean War veteran from Palo Alto it detained last month was held because of “hostile acts” against the Communist regime during the war and during his 10-day trip as a tourist.
Pyongyang’s official news agency also published what it said was a letter of apology from the retiree, Merrill Newman, and added that the North Koreans had accepted his apology -- implying that he might soon be released.
The statements said Newman had directed anti-Communist guerrillas during the 1950-53 war and had asked his North Korean guides during his October trip for help getting in touch with any survivors or their families still living in North Korea.
Newman has been held since Oct. 26, when he was taken off an airplane about to leave Pyongyang for Beijing on his way home.
“He is a criminal as he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK [North Korea] and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians,” the statement by the news agency claimed.
Newman is the seventh U.S. citizen to be arrested in North Korea in recent years, but his case has been particularly perplexing because, unlike other detainees, he entered on an ordinary tourist visa. Hundreds of Americans, including other Korean War veterans, have visited North Korea since 2010.
If the statements are correct, Newman might have erred in speaking too candidly to his North Korean minders.
The North Korean news agency said that Newman had served in U.S. military intelligence during the war and had advised a group of anti-Communist guerrillas known as the Mt. Kuwol partisans, after an area southwest of Pyongyang just above the 38th parallel.
“Following the itinerary, I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendants because it was too hard for me to do myself,’’ Newman purportedly wrote in the confession. He also allegedly gave his North Korean guides at the end of the trip addresses and email addresses of former anti-Communist guerrillas who escaped to South Korea after the war, but are still looking for relatives.
The confession also claimed that Newman hoped to visit Mt. Kuwol “to pray for the souls of dead soldiers.”
Another U.S. citizen, Kenneth Bae, an ethnic Korean, has been held in North Korea for over one year for proselytizing and missionary work. Christian activities are strictly banned in North Korea.