Merrill E Newman, an 85-year-old veteran American soldier detained for over a month in North Korea, arrived in China on Saturday after being freed by the reclusive nation on humanitarian grounds.
North Korea's KCNA news agency earlier said he was being deported because he had admitted to his wrongdoing and apologised. "I'm very glad to be on my way home," Newman told Japanese reporters at Beijing airport.
"And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way. I feel good, I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife."
DPRK is the official name of North Korea - Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Newman looked healthy in pictures taken of him at the airport. He later left the terminal with two men believed to US diplomats.
The US Embassy in Beijing declined to comment. Newman, who was a US special forces soldier during the 1950-53 Korean War and worked with guerrillas fighting behind the lines against the socialist North, has been held by the Pyongyang regime since late October.
He was visiting North Korea as a tourist when he was pulled off an Air Koryo flight in North Korea minutes before it was due to depart for Beijing on Oct. 26. KCNA said Newman was deported on humanitarian grounds, "taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition".
The United States quickly welcomed North Korea's decision to release Newman and called on Pyongyang to pardon another US citizen being held since November last year and release him to his family.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean American who worked as a Christian missionary and was convicted by the North in May of crimes against the state, has been serving a 15-year hard labour sentence. North Korea had accused Newman of being a criminal who took part in the killings of innocent civilians during the war.
Last week, KCNA published what it said was an apology by him for "a long list of indelible crimes against the DPRK government and Korean people".
The regime also released a video of Newman making the confession and apology. The United States and Newman's family had called on the North for his release given his age and medical conditions that required him to take medications. Newman lives in a retirement community in Palo Alto, California.