AFRICANGLOBE – Dennis Rodman, the former basketball star, returned Tuesday to North Korea, where he said he planned to see “my friend” Kim Jong-un, the dictator whose country until recently was threatening to annihilate the United States with nuclear weapons.
Mr. Rodman said in Beijing that he was planning a five-day visit to the North, but played down speculation that he would try to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been jailed there since late last year after being detained on North Korean soil.
“I’m not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae,” Mr. Rodman, a Basketball Hall of Fame member,told reporters in a telephone interview. “I’m just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour.” Mr. Kim is known to be a fervent basketball fan, and the two watched a game together during Mr. Rodman’s previous visit.
His visit comes amid a thaw in relations between North and South Korea, sworn enemies that just months ago appeared to be on the brink of military conflict.
Mr. Rodman’s last trip to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, was sponsored by Vice Media, and he drew wide criticism for cozying up to a government with a long record of human rights abuses. The current trip is being sponsored by Paddy Power, an Irish gambling operation, he said. After Mr. Rodman’s first North Korea trip, Paddy Power sent Mr. Rodman to Vatican City to urge people to place their bets on a new pope.
But Mr. Rodman said this trip to see Mr. Kim was all about friendship — and sports.
“I’ve come out here to see my friend,” he said. “I want to talk about basketball.”
During his visit to North Korea in March, Mr. Rodman told reporters in Pyongyang that North Koreans “love” Kim Jong-un, adding, “I love him — the guy’s awesome.”
It was around that time that North Korea was reaching new heights of bellicosity toward the United States, threatening to turn Washington and Seoul, the South Korean capital, into “a sea of flames” with “lighter and smaller nukes” because of stricter United Nations Security Council sanctions over the North’s third nuclear test in February.
Mr. Rodman’s visit also comes just days after North Korea rescinded its invitation to Robert King, a senior American diplomat who was planning to travel to Pyongyang to try to secure Mr. Bae’s release.
By: Gerry Mullany
Raw: Dennis Rodman Back in North Korea