North Korea has said it will release and deport a 75-year-old Australian missionary detained since last month for allegedly distributing religious materials.

The state-run KCNA news agency said on Monday that John Short committed a criminal act by distributing tracts from the bible at a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang on Kim Jong Il's birthday, a national holiday in North Korea to mark the ruling dynasty's second leader.

North Korea said it had decided to deport Short partly in consideration of his age.

Short admitted wrongdoing and apologised, KCNA said, and released photos that showed him authoring a three-page handwritten confession and using red ink to mark each page with his thumbprint.

I deeply apologise for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th the birthday of his excellency Kim Jong II

John Short, Australian missionary

"I deeply apologise for what I have done by spreading my Bible tracts on February 16th the birthday of his excellency Kim Jong Il," Short said in the confession released by KCNA and dated March 1.

"I realise that the mass media of the USA and the western countries who say that the DPRK is the closed country and has no religious freedoms is inaccurate and wrong," Short said in the confession, which was written in English using language consistent with North Korean propaganda.

Pyongyang has held American missionary Kenneth Bae for more than a year and convicted him of trying to overthrow the state.

While North Korea espouses freedom of religion it is ranked as one of the world's most oppressive regimes in that regard.

A UN report issued last month identified a lack of religious freedom in a state whose human rights abuses it likened to those of Nazi Germany.

In a rare media conference last week, a South Korean missionary held in North Korea confessed to spying in the North at the behest of the South Korean intelligence agency and attempting to build an underground church in the country.

Source: Agencies