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U.S. Korean War veteran released by North says made 'confession' under duress

LOS ANGELES - An elderly U.S. Korean War veteran released from detention in North Korea said on Monday a videotaped "confession" he made was given under duress and that he believed he may have been held in a misunderstanding over his interest in the war.

Merrill Newman, 85, said in a statement that he was kept under guard in a North Korean hotel during a detention that lasted over a month, and that his interrogator told him he would be sentenced to jail for 15 years if he did not cooperate.

"Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me 'confess' to," Newman said in the statement issued two days after he arrived at San Francisco airport on Saturday following his release.

Newman, who was a U.S. special forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War and worked with guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the communists in the north, was pulled off a flight on October 26 as he was about to leave the reclusive East Asian nation at the end of a tourist visit.

The California native was held for crimes North Korea said he committed during the war, when he was a lieutenant with a U.S. Army unit nicknamed the "White Tigers," serving as an adviser to a group of partisans who fought deep behind enemy lines.

Newman said that during his tourist trip he had expressed interest in visiting some of those "who fought in the war" in the Mount Kuwol area. He said he had helped train partisan fighters operating in that area during the war.

"The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister," he said. "It is now clear to me the North Koreans still feel much more anger about the war than I realized. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have been more sensitive to that."

No peace treaty was signed between the U.S.-led forces fighting for South Korea against North Korea and China, which was fighting alongside its Cold War ally.

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North Korea had called Newman a war criminal, saying he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the state "and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People's Army and innocent civilians," the official KCNA news agency has said.

KCNA had said Newman, who has a heart condition, was being deported on humanitarian grounds and because he had admitted to his wrongdoing and apologized.

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Merrill Newman, center, walks beside his wife Lee, left, and his son Jeffrey after arriving at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, Dec. 7. Newman was detained in North Korea late October at the end of a 10-day trip to North Korea, a visit that came six decades after he oversaw a group of South Korean wartime guerrillas during the 1950-53 war.

(AP)

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