SEOUL: A Korean American detained in North Korea admitted to attempting to steal military secrets as he was paraded in front of media groups in Pyongyang on Friday.

Kim Dong-Chul, 62, who became a naturalised US citizen in 1987 and was arrested on espionage charges in October last year, pleaded for mercy during his carefully orchestrated confession, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

His detention first came to public attention when he was produced in January during an interview CNN was conducting with a detained Canadian pastor in a Pyongyang hotel.

At that time, Kim said he had been living in China near the North Korean border for the past 15 years, commuting regularly to Rason — a North Korean special economic zone.

On Friday, Kim said he had first been detained in Rason after receiving a USB stick containing nuclear-linked and military secrets from his source.

According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, he also admitted to having been in contact since 2011 with South Korean intelligence who had funded his espionage activities.

Foreigners detained in North Korea are often required to make a public, usually officially-scripted acknowledgement of wrongdoing as a first step towards a possible release.

Cho’s appearance came a week after a North Korean court sentenced an American student who admitted stealing a propaganda banner from a hotel to 15 years’ hard labour.

Observers said the harsh sentence reflected soaring military tensions on the divided Korean peninsula following the North’s nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch a month later.

The United States took a leading role in securing the resulting sanctions that the UN Security Council imposed on the North earlier this month.