SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Saturday it has deported an elderly U.S. tourist and war veteran detained for more than a month for alleged hostile acts against the country.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said it made the decision because 85-year-old Merrill Newman had apologized for his alleged crimes during the Korean War and on a recent trip to the country and because of his age and medical condition.
Newman has yet to speak publicly and it was unclear Saturday where he’d been deported to. It wasn’t clear if his alleged confession shown on state TV last month was coerced.
He was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour.
A former group of South Korean guerrillas say Newman advised them as they fought behind enemy lines during the war. Some members have expressed surprise that Newman would take the risk of visiting North Korea given his role with their group, which is still loathed and remembered in the North.
Authorities in Pyongyang claimed Newman apologized for killing North Koreans during the 1950-53 Korean War, attempting to meet surviving guerrilla fighters he had trained during the conflict and reconnect them with their wartime colleagues living in South Korea, and criticizing the North during his recent trip.
Newman’s comments haven’t been independently confirmed. North Korea has a history of allegedly coercing statements from detainees.
Newman’s detention came as tension remains on the Korean Peninsula though Pyongyang’s rhetoric against the U.S. and South Korea has toned down in recent weeks compared with its torrent of springtime threats to launch nuclear wars.
Before Newman, North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009 and five of them have been either released or deported after prominent Americans like former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter travelled to Pyongyang.
The country has held for more than a year the sixth detainee, a Korean-American missionary and tour operator, Kenneth Bae, for alleged subversion.