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US veteran says North Korea ‘confession’ made under duress

Published on Dec 10, 2013 8:09 AM
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Korean War veteran Merrill Newman with his wife Lee after arriving at San Francisco International Airport on December 7, 2013 following his release from detention in North Korea.  He was held for over a month in North Korea and said on Dec 9, 2013, that a video “confession” released during his detention was made under duress. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A US Korean war veteran held for over a month in North Korea said on Monday, Dec 9, 2013, that a video “confession” released during his detention was made under duress.
Eighty-five year-old Merrill Newman, who was released last week and is now back home in California, said he was warned that he could be jailed for 15 years for spying if he did not cooperate.
Mr Newman, who was on a guided tourist trip to the reclusive state, added that he believes North Korean authorities misunderstood his “curiosity as something more sinister” when he asked about North Korean war veterans.
The US retiree was plucked off a plane on Oct 26 as he was leaving Pyongyang following a tourist visit. He was eventually freed and arrived back in California on Saturday.
He said a video “confession” was written for him by a non-native English speaker, adding that he emphasised the mistakes when he read it out, so that his family and others would know they were not his own words.
“Anyone who has read the text of it or who has seen the video of me reading it knows that the words were not mine and were not delivered voluntarily,” he said in a statement.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me ‘confess’ to.” And he said: “To demonstrate that I was reading the document under some duress, I did my best to read the ‘confession’ in a way that emphasised the bad grammar and strange language that the North Koreans had crafted for me to say.
“I hope that came across to all who saw the video,” he added.
Regarding why he was detained, he said he had concluded 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”. His mistake, he believes, was to ask to visit the area of Mount Kuwol where he had served during the Korean War, and then asked North Korean authorities if any veterans from that area were still alive.
“I innocently asked my North Korean guides whether some of those who fought in the war in the Mount Kuwol area might still be alive, and expressed an interest in possibly meeting them if they were,” he said.
“The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister.
“It is now clear to me the North Koreans still feel much more anger about the war than I realised. With the benefit of hindsight I should have been more sensitive to that,” he added.