North Korea showcases detained US pensioner as war criminal
SEOUL - North Korea accused a detained U.S. veteran on Saturday of killing civilians during the Korean War 60 years ago and showed a video of the 85-year-old making a full confession and apology as if the battles are still raging.
The North's KCNA news agency said Merrill E. Newman, a former special forces officer, was a mastermind of clandestine operations and had confessed to being "guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people."
In the patchy video, Newman appears composed and is shown reading aloud from a handwritten statement dated Nov 9, 2013 in a wood-paneled meeting room. At the end, he bows and places a finger print on the document.
"I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives (offenses) but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives (offenses) sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me (I wish not to be punished)," Newman, who has a heart rhythm disorder, was quoted as saying by KCNA.
DPRK is short for the North's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. One of the world's most isolated states, it nourishes memories of the 1950-53 war with South Korea and the United States to keep its impoverished people distracted and the family of founder Kim Il Sung in power. His grandson, Kim Jong Un, is North Korea's current ruler.
It remains technically in a state of war with the South and with the United States because the 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
"He is a criminal as he 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," KCNA said.
Newman, in his statement carried by KCNA, said he trained scores of men in guerrilla warfare against the North, including how to sabotage communications and transport lines and disrupt munitions supply.
"In the process of following tasks given by me, I believe they would kill more innocent people," Newman said in the statement.
Public documents in South Korea and the United States show U.S. officers worked as "advisers" to groups of anti-communist partisans during the Korean War. The conflict pitted the Communist North, backed byChina and the Soviet Union, against the republican South, backed by the United States.
These officers trained Korean anti-communist guerilla units to launch attacks behind enemy lines.
Newman belonged to the 8240th Unit, nicknamed the 'White Tigers', said guerrillas who were trained by him.
"We co-operated and helped with each other and fought," Kim Hyeon who lives south of Seoul said in an interview with Reuters. Hyeon remained in touch with Newman after the war and visited him with his family in 2004.
"In the past we couldn't even speak up (about our activities,)" said Kim, who served as a staff officer of theKuwol Regiment of partisans, referring to the clandestine operations it conducted under Newman's supervision.
KCNA gave no indication of what might happen to Newman.
His family has appealed to the North Korean government for his release saying they believed "some dreadful misunderstanding" was behind the detention.
"The North Koreans would treat someone like that with much more disdain than a regular line soldier or officer in the American forces."
A U.S. State Department spokesman said there was no immediate comment on the news. The State Department had previously refused to provide any details of the arrest other than confirming the detention of a U.S. citizen.
After serving in the war, Newman worked as a manufacturing and business executive before retiring in 1984, according to a biography of him in a February 2012 newsletter from Channing House, his retirement home.
North Korea is also holding another American, Christian missionary Kenneth Bae of Korean decent, arrested last year and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor on charges of committing hostile acts against the state.
KCNA said Newman had asked his guide to help look for any surviving soldiers he would have fought against or their families.
"Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. during the Korean war," he said.