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American veteran accused of war crimes in N. Korea

Calif. man reads an apology from sheets of paper

Merrill Newman made a TV apology, which could lead to his release soon, an expert on North Korea said.

AFP

Merrill Newman made a TV apology, which could lead to his release soon, an expert on North Korea said.

BEIJING — North Korea has accused an American veteran of war crimes and on Saturday released a video of him confessing to “hostile acts” during the Korean War and while he was visiting the country in October.

The veteran, Merrill Newman, 85, of Palo Alto, Calif., who has been held since Oct. 26, appeared on the video dressed in casual Western clothes and wearing glasses as he read excerpts from the apology from several sheets of white paper.

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In the apology, Newman said he had been an adviser for the Kuwol Unit of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment that served with the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.

A person familiar with Newman’s military record and his current situation in captivity in North Korea said that Newman had served as an adviser in that unit in 1953 before the armistice.

The unit operated behind the lines of the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers, but Newman conducted his duties as an adviser on Chodo, an island off the west coast of what is now North Korea, the person said.

In the beginning of the video, Newman mentioned Chodo as the place where he was stationed. The person speaking about Newman’s situation declined to be named because of the delicacy of the case.

In the apology, Newman describes how he wanted to meet “surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers” involved in the Korean War. If he met any surviving soldiers, he planned to put them in touch with members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association who had escaped to South Korea, the apology said.

Newman described how he had asked his tour guide to look for families and relatives of the Comrades-in-Arms group, which is described in the apology as “an anti-Communist strategic plot organization.”

An e-mail from Newman to friends in South Korea telling them of his impending trip to North Korea and his hopes of meeting with relatives of the partisan group is embedded in the video of the apology.

The Korean Central News Agency released a full text of the apology, in which Newman asked for forgiveness. He was under detention when he read the statement, which contained grammatical errors and unusual English constructions.

“As I killed so many civilians and KPA soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people,” the apology said. The Democratic People’s Republic of Koreais North Korea’s official name.

Newman, a retired technology executive and a world traveler, went to North Korea on a trip organized by a licensed tour group to fulfill a longtime desire to see the country where he had served as an infantry officer, his family said.

There was no indication from North Korea what the next steps in his case would be. The US State Department had no immediate comment.

In the written apology, which was dated Nov. 9, Newman is quoted as saying: “If I go back to USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.”

The fact that Newman made a televised apology could lead to his release fairly soon, said Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea and the author of “The Real North Korea.”

“So far, such public acts of repentance have usually been followed by the release of those detained, and this is likely to happen again,” Lankov said.

An American Christian missionary, Robert Park, who crossed into North Korea in December 2009 and was held for more than a month, was released shortly after he signed an apology, Lankov said.

Newman was pulled off a plane on Oct. 26 as it was preparing to leave North Korea for Beijing. Something appeared to have gone awry on the last full day of Newman’s tour when he was asked to talk to one of his tour guides in the presence of another North Korean and without his traveling companion, a fellow retiree from California, said his son, Jeff Newman, shortly after his father’s detention.

Jeff Newman had appealed to the North Korean government for the return of his father so that he could be home for Thanksgiving. Attempts to reach him Saturday were unsuccessful.

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