Retired US basketball star Dennis Rodman was to visit a North Korean ski resort yesterday, possibly along with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as his advisers sought to quell an outcry over comments the former player made on an American jailed by Pyongyang.
A source with direct knowledge of Rodman’s itinerary said the 52-year-old was on a helicopter to a new multimillion-dollar resort — one of Kim’s showcase projects.
Rodman, on his fourth visit to North Korea, led a chorus singing Happy Birthday to the leader of the isolated country at a basketball match on Wednesday that Kim attended with his young wife.
North Korean state media said the song was “reflecting [Rodman’s] reverence” for Kim and that he had organized the game as a gift for his birthday, confirming for the first time the young leader’s date of birth. He is believed to be 31.
Rodman drew criticism from rights activists and the family of imprisoned US missionary Kenneth Bae after he appeared to suggest in an interview that Bae, rather than the North Korean authorities, was responsible for his incarceration.
Rodman’s advisers issued a statement attributed to him apologizing for the comments and saying he had made them after he had been drinking on a stressful day.
“I want to apologize, I take full responsibility,” Rodman was quoted by CNN as saying in the statement.
Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said her family was outraged by Rodman’s comments and that he should use his access to Kim to advocate on Bae’s behalf.
“He is playing games with my brother’s life,” she said.
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party, dedicated its front page yesterday to the basketball game and published photographs of Kim sitting and laughing with Rodman.
“Dennis Rodman said he was overjoyed and teared up when he met the Dear Respected Marshall again,” the article said.
Separately yesterday, Pyongyang rejected a South Korean proposal to resume reunions of families that have been separated since the Korean War in the early 1950s.
The North wants to link the reunions to a restart of a lucrative joint tourism project at a scenic North Korean mountain, according to South Korean officials.
Pyongyang said talks could take place if the South is willing to discuss “the proposals of our side,” an apparent reference to the project.