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Report: Accused of spying, American held in North Korea issues 'apology'

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 10:30 AM EST, Sat November 30, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Merrill Newman was detained more than a month ago in North Korea, his family says
  • He issues an apology to North Korea for his actions, state news reports
  • "I committed indelible offensive acts against" North Korea, he reportedly says
  • State news claims investigators found Newman "masterminded espionage"

(CNN) -- An 85-year-old American man detained in North Korea has apologized for his actions, including for killing troops and civilians during the Korean War, North Korea's state-run news agency reported Saturday.

KCNA released a statement it claimed was from Merrill Newman -- a Palo Alto, California man who, his family says, has been held in North Korea for more than 30 days.

"After I killed so many civilians and (North Korean) soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people," Newman said, according to the "apology" reported by KCNA.

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His statement ends: "If I go back to (the) USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading."

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In addition to this statement, KCNA ran a story alleging Newman came to North Korea with a tourist group in October and afterward "perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and slandering its socialist system."

Searching for spies

This story claimed that Newman tried to "look for spies and terrorists who conducted espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK." Investigators determined that, as a member of the U.S. military, he "masterminded espionage and subversive activities ... and, in this course, he was involved in the killings of service personnel of the Korean People's Army and innocent civilians."

"The investigation clearly proved Newman's hostile acts against the DPRK, and they were backed by evidence," the KCNA story added. "He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them."

Until now, Pyongyang had not explained why it was holding Newman.

Family begs for his release

There was no apparent immediate response from the U.S. government to the reported apology or the accompanying North Korean official news report.

Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, and it has been working through Sweden -- the U.S. protecting power in North Korea -- to obtain information about the American.

The retired financial consultant was last seen aboard a flight from Pyongyang to Beijing. Just minutes before the plane was to depart, he was removed from the flight by North Korean authorities.

According to his family, he had been on a 10-day organized private tour of North Korea. From phone calls and postcards he sent, the trip was going well and there was no indication of any kind of problem, his son said.

Family begged for his return

Newman's family could not be immediately reached for comment about the North Korean claims or the reported apology. But in recent days, they had voiced their concern about him.

In an interview with CNN on Monday, his wife said they hoped he'd be home for Thanksgiving.

"We need to have Merrill back at the head of the table for the holidays. And we ask -- respectfully -- for them to release him and let him come home," Lee Newman told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

She said Newman has a heart condition and only packed enough medicine for the trip. She has sent packages of medication, but said she does not know whether he has received them.

Other detained Americans

Newman is one of two American citizens being held in North Korea.

The other one, Kenneth Bae, was arrested in November 2012 and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor. The North Korean government has said he was found guilty of "hostile acts" and attempts to topple the government.

CNN's Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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