SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea state media claimed Saturday that an elderly U.S. tourist detained for more than a month has apologized for alleged crimes during the Korean War and for "hostile acts" against the state during a recent trip.
North Korean authorities released video showing 85-year-old Merrill 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. There was no way to reach Newman and determine the circumstances of the alleged confession. But it was riddled with stilted English and grammatical errors, such as "I want not punish me."
In this Nov. 9 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed Saturday by the Korea News Service, U.S. citizen Merrill Newman, 85, reads a document, which North Korean authorities say was an apology that Newman wrote and read in North Korea.
"I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people," Newman purportedly wrote in a four-page statement, 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. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
It wasn't clear what would happen to Newman now. But the statement alleges that Newman says if he goes back to the U.S. he will tell the truth about the country - a possible indication that Newman could be released.
The apology can be seen as Pyongyang taking steps needed to release Newman, said Yoo Ho-Yeol, a professor of North Korea studies at Korea University in Seoul. North Korea likely issued the confession in the form of an apology to resolve Newman's case quickly without starting legal proceedings, Yoo said.
North Korea is extremely sensitive about any criticism and regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of seeking to overthrow its authoritarian system through various means - claims the U.S. and South Korea dismiss. The State Department has repeatedly warned Americans about traveling to the country, citing the risk of arbitrary detention.
Newman, an avid traveler and retired finance executive, was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour. His traveling companion seated next to him, neighbor and former Stanford University professor Bob Hamrdla, was allowed to depart.
Newman's son, Jeffrey Newman, said his father wanted to return to the country where he spent three years during the Korean War.
Efforts to reach Newman's family and friends in the U.S. were not immediately successful Saturday. The Associated Press left messages seeking comment.