Newman releases details of detention in the North

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Newman releases details of detention in the North

An 85-year-old 1950-53 Korean War veteran who was held captive in North Korea for more than a month for alleged “hostile acts” against the reclusive state said in a written statement issued yesterday that he was “under some duress” to make an apology to Pyongyang.

Merrill Newman, a former U.S. military trainer of a group of clandestine South Korean anti-Communist partisans during the conflict, said the words used in a videotaped apology were not his and “were not delivered voluntarily.”

“Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me ‘confess’ to,” he said.

The veteran added that to demonstrate that he was not responsible for the apologetic statement - which was riddled with stilted English - he did his best to emphasize “the bad grammar and strange language that the North Koreans had crafted” for him.

North Korean authorities released a video on Nov. 29 that showed Newman reading off an awkwardly worded statement, apologizing for killing North Koreans during the war and the harm he brought upon the state.

The confession was seen as a necessary step for Pyongyang before it could release the elderly American, as it considers itself under assault from the outside world. Newman’s dramatic and unexpected ordeal began when he was escorted off a plane by North Korean authorities on Oct. 26, following a 10-day trip to the reclusive state.

He said that during his 42-day detention, he had “no access to any outside news” but was treated well. The North Koreans looked after him, he added, feeding him well and providing him with the medicine delivered by the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang.

North Korea released Newman on Friday, citing his repentance, age and health conditions as primary reasons. His unexpected detention underscores Pyongyang’s long-held sensitivity to the inter-Korean war six decades ago.

In retrospect, the elderly American said his request to meet with veterans from the Northern side who fought in the Mount Kuwol area in Hwanghae Province - in today’s North Korea - where Newman spent the war training South Korean guerillas, is likely what provoked authorities there to detain him. “The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister,” noted Newman. “I just didn’t understand that, for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn’t over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you are a foreigner.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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