Rodman back from N Korea, without jailed American

Reuters and AP, BEIJING

Sun, Sep 08, 2013 - Page 5

Former US basketball star Dennis Rodman yesterday returned from his second visit to North Korea this year, where he again met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but did not come back with jailed US missionary Kenneth Bae.

The flamboyant former NBA star’s visit came after North Korea abruptly withdrew its invitation to US Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Robert King, who was expected to head to Pyongyang in a bid to secure Bae’s release.

Bae, 45, was sentenced to hard labor for 15 years in May for crimes against the state. He had been arrested in November last year after entering the North with a tour group and his health has been deteriorating since he was imprisoned.

Though there had been speculation that during Rodman’s visit, the detained American would be released, he said ahead of his visit he was going for “another basketball diplomacy tour.”

Wearing his trademark dark sunglasses, the 2.01m tall Rodman emerged at Beijing’s international airport, a common waystation for travelers to and from North Korea, with an unlit cigar in his mouth.

“That’s not my job to ask about Kenneth Bae. Ask [US President Barack] Obama about that. Ask [former US secretary of state] Hillary Clinton. Ask those assholes,” he told a throng of reporters. “I don’t give a shit.”

Kim and Rodman spent quality time together by having dinner and watching a basketball game during Rodman’s five-day trip, the North’s Korean Central News Agency reported.

The report added that Kim warmly welcomed Rodman and had a “cordial talk.”

Rodman reportedly expressed his thanks to the leader for spending time with him, saying Kim’s greeting is “an expression of good faith toward the Americans.”

Rodman showed reporters in Beijing pictures of him meeting Kim, and said he had given Kim a gift of his Bad Boy vodka, which “he loved.”

“He is my friend for life. I don’t care what you guys think about him. I don’t give a shit about what people around the world think about him,” he added.

Rodman’s latest trip was sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

Kim, the third of his line to rule North Korea, is a basketball fan and appeared to get along well with Rodman on the earlier visit, with the two of them pictured laughing, eating and drinking together and watching an all-star basketball match.

Rodman first visited Pyongyang earlier this year at a time when North Korea was threatening the US, South Korea and Japan with missile strikes.