Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has angrily defended his visit to North Korea, ahead of a basketball game to mark Kim Jong-un’s birthday.
In an interview with CNN, Dennis Rodman was asked if he would raise the issue of a US citizen jailed in North Korea.
Dennis Rodman responded with a rant that at one point appeared to point blame at the man, Kenneth Bae.
His visit has been criticized by rights groups, with Washington making it clear he does not represent the US.
His team of former NBA players will take on a North Korean team in an exhibition match later on Wednesday in Pyongyang.
Dennis Rodman says the match is to celebrate Kim Jong-un’s birthday, although his official birthday and age have not been confirmed.
It comes weeks after the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek, once seen as a major power in North Korea. His rapid and brutal purge has sparked concern over stability inside the country.
Meanwhile, state news agency KCNA has announced that elections for North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament will be held on March 9 – something which could provide a hint of who the key players are in the wake of Jang Sung-taek’s execution.
This visit is Dennis Rodman’s fourth to North Korea. He has in the past described Kim Jong-un as a friend and says he is on a “basketball diplomacy” mission. He remains the highest-profile American to have met the young leader.
Dennis Rodman had been asked several times in the past whether he could use his relationship with Kim Jong-un to discuss Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in May 2013.
North Korea said that Kenneth Bae – described as both a tour operator and Christian missionary – had used his tourism business to plot sedition.
Asked again in the CNN interview, Dennis Rodman appeared to lose his cool, saying: “If you understand what Kenneth Bae did … Do you understand what he did in this country? … I would love to speak on this.”
Dennis Rodman’s visit was about opening “the door a little bit”, he said, even though the team would have “to go back to America and take the abuse”.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on Dennis Rodman’s remarks, but reiterated a call for North Korea to release Kenneth Bae – who is suffering from ill health – on humanitarian grounds.
Former NBA star Charles D. Smith, meanwhile, told the Associated Press news agency that he felt “remorse” for participating in the trip amid the backlash in the US.
“I feel a lot of remorse for the guys because we are doing something positive, but it’s a lot bigger than us. We are not naive, we understand why things are being portrayed the way they are.”
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