North Korea says detained Bay Area man apologized

SEOUL, South Korea

These are major developments. Not only are we seeing and hearing Merrill Newman from North Korea, we're learning about what he's accused of doing that led to his detainment.

These are the first images we are seeing of the 85-year-old since he was detained by the North Korean government more than a month ago.

Newman is reading from what the state news agency says is an apology letter that explains what he did against the north when he fought in the Korean War.

"They collected information of the KPA and attacked the communications system and killed three innocent operators," Newman said in the video released by North Korean authorities.

The Korean Central News Agency report says 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."

Earlier this week his wife Lee Newman broke her silence, pleading for his release.

"We just hope whatever that misunderstanding is will be resolved very quickly and he can return and be at our table for the holidays," she said.

What's not clear is who wrote the alleged apology letter.

In the past, the North Korean government has been accused of coercing statements from detainees.

In the video, Newman promised to tell the truth about the country if they let him go.

The apology can be seen as Pyongyang taking steps needed to release him, said Yoo Ho-Yeol, a professor of North Korea studies at Korea University in Seoul. North Korea likely issued the confession in the form of an apology to resolve Newman's case quickly without starting legal proceedings, Yoo said.

North Korea is extremely sensitive about any criticism and regularly accuses Washington and Seoul of seeking to overthrow its authoritarian system through various means — claims the U.S. and South Korea dismiss. The State Department has repeatedly warned Americans about traveling to the country, citing the risk of arbitrary detention.

"I can understand that in western countries there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK," Merrill said in the video.

ABC7 News has contacted the U.S. State Department to see if it has reviewed the video and has anything to say about it. We've also reached out to Newman's family here in the Bay Area.

Newman, an avid traveler and retired finance executive, was taken off a plane Oct. 26 by North Korean authorities while preparing to leave the country after a 10-day tour. His traveling companion seated next to him, neighbor and former Stanford University professor Bob Hamrdla, was allowed to depart.

Newman's son, Jeffrey Newman, said his father wanted to return to the country where he spent three years during the Korean War.

North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009, including two journalists accused of trespassing and several Americans, some of whom are of Korean ancestry, accused of spreading Christianity. Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary and tour operator, has been detained for more than a year. North Korea sees missionary work as a Western threat to its authoritarian government.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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