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Elderly Cal Grad Held by North Korea Had Secret Role in Korean War

The 85-year-old UC Berkeley grad and former Berkeley teacher detained by North Korea, Merrill Newman, secretly trained anti-Communist guerrillas to fight behind enemy lines in the Korean War, according to news reports.

In this Associated Press photo posted on AOL.com, North Korean detainee Merrill Newman – a UC Berkeley grad who taught high school in Berkeley – is shown putting his thumb print on what the North Korean government said was his apology.
In this Associated Press photo posted on AOL.com, North Korean detainee Merrill Newman – a UC Berkeley grad who taught high school in Berkeley – is shown putting his thumb print on what the North Korean government said was his apology.

By Kari Hulac

Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old UC Berkeley grad who once taught high school in Berkeley and who has been detained for more than a month in North Korea, was involved in secretly training anti-communist guerrillas fighting behind enemy lines in the Korean War in a once-top-secret U.S. Army unit nicknamed the "White Tigers,'' the San Jose Mercury News reported

According to a lengthy report from Reuters Saturday, the Kuwol Regiment, or "Kuwolsan" in Korean, meaning "September Mountain," was named after a mountain in western North Korea where the guerrillas sought refuge as soldiers of the KPA swept down the Korean peninsula when war broke out.

Also on Saturday, news reports on AOL.com said the Swedish ambassador reportedly has seen Merrill Newman, who resides in Palo Alto, and that he is in good health.

Newman's family in Southern California said in a statement that the State Department told them that the Swedish ambassador to North Korea had visited the Newman at a Pyongyang hotel.

"We were very pleased to hear that the Ambassador was allowed to pay this first visit to Merrill," the statement said. "As a result of the visit, we know that Merrill is in good health. ... Merrill reports that he is being well treated and that the food is good."

An Obama administration official called for his release, urging North Korea to consider his age and health conditions.

Sweden handles consular issues for Americans in North Korea as the U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic relations.

Newman's family said the ambassador's visit eased their concerns about his health, and pleaded with North Korean authorities to take his health and age into account and let him go as an act of humanitarian compassion.

The family's report came hours after North Korea state media released video showing Newman reading an apology for alleged crimes during the Korean War and for "hostile acts" against the state during a recent trip.

Pyongyang has been accused of previously coercing statements from detainees. There was no way to reach Newman and determine the circumstances of the alleged confession. But it was riddled with stilted English and grammatical errors, such as "I want not punish me."

"I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people," said the four-page statement, adding: "Please forgive me."

Newman, who lives in the Palo Alto retirement home Channing House, has degrees from Stanford and U.C. Berkeley and has taught at schools in Berkeley and Livermore.

The statement, carried in the North's official Korean Central News Agency, said the war veteran allegedly attempted to meet with any surviving soldiers he had trained during the Korean War to fight North Korea, and that he admitted to killing civilians and brought an e-book criticizing North Korea. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

It wasn't clear what will happen to Newman now. But the statement alleges that Newman says if he goes back to the U.S. he will tell the truth about the country.

The apology can be seen as Pyongyang taking steps needed to release Newman, 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.

Newman, an avid traveler, 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.

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