Update 4:25 p.m. EST: The North Koreans have let Swedish diplomats, who handle U.S. interests in Pyongyang, see Merrill Newman, the State Department said.
The U.S. government called for the immediate release of both Newman and Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae.
North Korea on Saturday said it had arrested Merrill E. Newman, a U.S. citizen, after the 85-year-old veteran supposedly confessed to war crimes against the North and its people during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Newman, from Palo Alto, Calif., was detained by North Korean officials in Pyongyang when he was about to leave the country in an Air Koryo plane on Oct. 26. He had been visiting North Korea as a tourist through a tour group based in Beijing. But Pyongyang had not publicly acknowledged Newman’s detention or arrest until Saturday, despite several pleas from his family to release him.
KCNA, the official news agency of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, on Saturday issued a statement of apology which it claimed was made by Newman after he was detained. “Newman admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them,” and the allegations against him were backed by evidence, the agency said.
"After I killed so many civilians and 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.
North Korea also released a video of Newman making his alleged confession, and he was seen placing a red thumb imprint to the confession statement, which reportedly was dated Nov. 9.
KCNA in a separate report accused Newman of engaging in activities that infringed upon the “dignity and sovereignty” of the North, during his nine-day visit as a tourist. KCNA said Newman had sought the help of his tour guides to find veterans of his military unit and their descendants in the North, in a bid to connect them with a Korean War veterans group based in South Korea, The Wall Street Journal reported, and this was the cause of his arrest.
Describing Newman as a criminal, KCNA said that during the war 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," Reuters reported.
North Korea also has been holding Kenneth Bae, 44, another U.S. citizen and a Christian missionary of Korean descent, who was arrested last year and sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts against the North.