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At 85, US POW in N. Korea not forgotten

SEOUL--As autumn descended on a Korean countryside devastated by three years of intense war, a group of anti-communist guerrillas presented U.S. serviceman Merrill Edward Newman with a gold ring. It was September 1953.

For Newman, the ring became a proud symbol of the role he played as an adviser to a group of battle-hardened partisans who fought deep behind enemy lines in a war that pitted the China- and Soviet-backed North against the U.S.-backed South.

Now, six decades on, the 85-year-old pensioner who lives in a retirement community in California, has become one of the last prisoners of that war. He returned to North Korea last month as an American tourist and was snatched by authorities from his plane moments before it was due to depart for Beijing.

When he returned to the isolated state, he was taking a risk, former guerrillas who knew Newman said. The North Korean regime has nourished memories of the 1950-53 Korean War as the inspiration for the country's identity and acts as if the conflict is still happening.

Technically, the war did not end. No peace treaty was signed between the United States, South Korea and North Korea.

On Saturday, North Korea released a video showing the pensioner reading a handwritten confession of his role in the war. The North's KCNA news agency said he was a mastermind of clandestine operations and accused him of killing civilians during the war.

“Those bastards already knew Newman before the war was over,” said Kim Chang-sun, one of the men who presented Newman with the ring in 1953. Kim was still at school when he joined the Kuwol Partisan Regiment, a force that Newman trained, he said in an interview in Seoul.

“They obtained the roster of our entire regiment,” Kim said.

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