North Korea releases detained elderly American Korean War veteran

Veteran United States soldier Merrill Newman (centre), who was detained for over a month in North Korea, arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, in this photo taken by Kyodo on December 7, 2013. Mr Newman, 85, arrived in China on Saturday after being
Veteran United States soldier Merrill Newman (centre), who was detained for over a month in North Korea, arrives at Beijing airport in Beijing, in this photo taken by Kyodo on December 7, 2013. Mr Newman, 85, arrived in China on Saturday after being freed by the reclusive nation on humanitarian grounds. North Korea's KCNA news agency earlier said he was being deported because he had admitted to his wrongdoing and apologised. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea said on Saturday it has deported an American veteran of the Korean War who had been detained in the country since October for what Pyongyang described as "hostile acts" against the communist country.

Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old from California, was deported "from a humanitarian viewpoint", the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, citing his "sincere repentance" as well as his age and health condition.

Newman, who has a heart condition, was plucked off a plane last month as he was leaving Pyongyang following a tourist visit.

His family said he was detained on October 26 shortly before take-off from the North Korean capital.

The release came as US Vice President Joe Biden visited South Korea, the last stop on a three-country Asia tour that has already taken him to Japan and China.

Last week Pyongyang for the first time officially admitted holding Newman, saying he was detained for "hostile acts" after entering the country "under the guise of a tourist".

North Korea had accused him of committing crimes both as a tourist and during his participation in the Korean War.

The North also claimed that Newman masterminded espionage and subversive activities during the war and was involved in the killing of North Korean soldiers and innocent civilians.

Newsman, a retired financial executive who spent time in North Korea during the war, had released a video apology confessing to his crimes, published through state media.