North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has sparked another international crisis.
This time, there are no rockets involved. It all starts with his regime jailing an 85-year-old grandfather.
The secretive nation confirmed Saturday that an American veteran of the Korean War, Merrill Newman, was detained for “hostile acts” against the communist country and said he had released an apology confessing to his alleged crimes.
Newman was held in October after entering the North “under the guise of a tourist”, the country’s official KCNA news agency said.
It is the first time the reclusive state has officially admitted holding Newman, whose family said he was detained on October 26 shortly before takeoff from Pyongyang following a 10-day tour.
KCNA claimed Newman had committed crimes both as a tourist and during his participation in the Korean War six decades ago.
Newman, a retired financial executive who served three years during the war, has been accused of infringing upon the “dignity and sovereignty” of the secretive state and “slandering its socialist system, quite contrary to the purpose of the tour”, the report said.
The American had also masterminded espionage and subversive activities during the 1950-53 Korean War and was involved in the killing of North Korean soldiers and innocent civilians, it said.
International affairs experts said North Korea might have issued Newman’s apology in order to trigger talks with the United States.
“North Korea wants negotiations with the United States on his release,” Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.
“The release of Newman, probably together with another American detained earlier, may come before the end of this year if Washington sends a special envoy,” he said.
The regime has long used threats against foreign prisoners and potential missile strikes to attract the world’s attention.
In May this year, the regime fired more than half-a-dozen projectiles into the nearby Sea of Japan, sparking fears of war.
North Korea is also holding US national Kenneth Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator arrested a year ago who was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of seeking to topple the government.
The court described Bae, also known by his Korean name Pae Jun-Ho, as a militant Christian evangelist who smuggled inflammatory material into the country and sought to establish a subversive base in Rason.
Friends and relatives have said Newman, who was on an organised tour, was detained due to a “misunderstanding”.
Last week the US special envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, urged Pyongyang to release detained American citizens, saying Washington was “working very hard” through the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang “to try to move this issue along”.
The US State Department recently issued an updated travel advisory urging Americans to avoid North Korea, which was reportedly “arbitrarily detaining US citizens and not allowing them to depart the country”.
Pyongyang runs one of the world’s most secretive states and independently verifying official reports is notoriously difficult.
The North’s secretive communist regime is widely thought to govern the country with an iron fist, with frequent public executions and up to 200,000 political prisoners languishing in labour camps.