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North Korea parades detained US pensioner Merrill Newman as war criminal

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North Korea showcased a US veteran on Saturday who they accuse of killing civilians during the Korean War 60 years ago in a video of the 85-year-old making a full 'confession' and apology as if the battles are still continuing today.

The North's KCNA news agency said Merrill E. Newman, a former special forces officer, was a mastermind of clandestine operations and had confessed to being "guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people."

In a poor quality video, Newman is shown reading aloud from a handwritten statement dated 9 November, 2013 in a wood-panelled meeting room. At the end, he bows and places a finger print on the document.

"I realise that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives (offences) but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologising for my offensives (offences) sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me (I wish not to be punished)," Newman, who has a heart rhythm disorder, was quoted as saying by KCNA.

North Korea remains technically in a state of war with the South and with the United States because the 1950-53 conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

Newman, a pensioner from Palo Alto, California, was taken off an Air Koryo flight in North Korea minutes before its departure for Beijing on 26 October and he was detained by authorities.

Mr Newman, who reportedly has a keen interest in North Korean culture, had been in the country with his friend Bob Hamrdla on a guided tour approved by the Government for foreign travellers, his son Jeffrey said. Mr Hamrdla has since returned to America.

His wife said earlier this week her husband went to North Korea to "put some closure" on his time during the US military. It was "an important part of his life," she said.

Newman worked as an "adviser" to a partisan regiment during the Korean War as "part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Command of the US Forces in the Far East," KCNA said in a separate report.

"He is a criminal as 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," KCNA said.

Newman, in his statement carried by KCNA, said he trained scores of men in guerrilla warfare against the North, including how to sabotage communications and transport lines and disrupt munitions supply.

"In the process of following tasks given by me, I believe they would kill more innocent people," Newman said in the statement.

Public documents in South Korea and the United States show US officers worked as "advisers" to groups of anti-communist partisans during the Korean War.

These officers trained Korean anti-communist guerilla units to launch attacks behind enemy lines.

Newman belonged to the 8240th Unit, nicknamed the 'White Tigers', said guerrillas who were trained by him.

"We co-operated and helped with each other and fought," Kim Hyeon who lives south of Seoul said in an interview with Reuters. Hyeon remained in touch with Newman after the war and visited him with his family in 2004.

Newman's family has appealed to the North Korean government for his release saying they believed "some dreadful misunderstanding" was behind the detention.

"If Newman was with the partisans that may explain his detention," Bruce Cumings, an expert on the Korean War at the University of Chicago, told Reuters.

"The North Koreans would treat someone like that with much more disdain than a regular line soldier or officer in the American forces."

There have been some reports that Mr Newman had discussed his time serving in the Korean War with North Korean officials the day before his detention on 26 October, although these have not been confirmed. America backed South Korea in the 1950-1953 war.

A US State Department spokesman said there was no immediate comment on the news. The State Department had previously refused to provide any details of the arrest other than confirming the detention of a US citizen.

After serving in the war, Newman worked as a manufacturing and business executive before retiring in 1984, according to a biography of him in a February 2012 newsletter from Channing House, his retirement home.

US citizen and tour operator Kenneth Bae has also been detained in North Korea since November 2012.

There had been some reports that Mr Newman had discussed his time serving in the Korean War with North Korean officials the day before his detention, although this has not been confirmed. 

KCNA said Newman had asked his guide to help look for any surviving soldiers he would have fought against or their families.

"Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. during the Korean war," he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters