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White House calls on North Korea to release US citizen Merrill Newman

The United States has urged North Korea to “immediately release” 85-year-old American Merrill E. Newman, who has been detained for more than a month. North Korean state media has released an 'apology' from Newman.

The White House plea came Saturday as North Korean state media said Newman, a Korean War veteran, had admitted and apologized for "hostile acts" which he allegedly committed against the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) during the war.

"Given Mr Newman's advanced age and health conditions, we urge the DPRK to release Mr Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

Entered on tourist visa

North Korean officials removed Newman, a retired finance executive, from an Air Koryo plane that was due to leave the country on October 26 following a 10-day tour.

Pyongyang accused the 85-year-old from Palo Alto in California of attempting to meet surviving soldiers who he had trained during the war, and of entering the country "under the guise of a tourist."

Newman's son said his father - a keen traveler - had been eager to return to the country, having spent three years there during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Technically it is still not over as a peace treaty was never signed between North Korea, South Korea and the United States.

'Confession' released

Earlier on Saturday, North Korea's official KCNA news agency alleged that Newman had "masterminded espionage and subversive activities," and accused him of being a "criminal" involved in the killings of civilians.

"He was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People's Army and innocent civilians," KCNA said. "He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them," it added.

KCNA also published what it claimed was a statement of apology from Newman about his activities during the war.

"During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against the DPRK government and Korean people," it read. A video and photos of Newman were also released by North Korea.

The Reuters news agency reported that Swedish embassy officials had visited Newman on Saturday, which was the first time he had access to Western officials since his arrest.

Plea for amnesty

White House spokesman Hayden also urged Pyongyang to free another American, Kenneth Bae, who was detained in November 2012 as he led a tourist group in North Korea.

Last May, North Korea's Supreme Court sentenced the 45-year-old tour operator and missionary to 15 years' hard labor on charges of seeking to topple the government.

"Kenneth Bae has been in DPRK custody for over a year, and we continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant him amnesty and immediate release," Hayden said.

North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, among them two journalists accused of trespassing and several, some of Korean origin, accused of spreading Christianity.

se/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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