Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman to arrive in Pyongyang
Washington: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman is slated to arrive in North Korea on Tuesday for his fifth visit amidst mounting tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, the media reported.
North Korean officials confirmed to CNN Rodman’s arrival in Pyongyang but did not give any details of the visit.
Rodman was also spotted at the Beijing International Airport on Monday night where he refused to answer questions about his visit.
Rodman, who played for the Pistons and Bulls, has visited the country at least four times, with three of the visits taking place between 2013 and 2014.
A senior US official said the State Department was aware Rodman was planning to travel to North Korea, but stressed he is not there in any official capacity.
During his last visit in January 2014, Rodman and a group of other former NBA players took part in an exhibition basketball game. It was supposedly a birthday gift for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who is said to be a big basketball fan.
Rodman was filmed leading a sing-along of “Happy Birthday” to the leader, a man he calls a friend and a “very good guy”.
Rodman has described his series of trips to North Korea as a “basketball diplomacy” project and defended the trip for Kim’s birthday in an earlier CNN interview saying it was a “great idea for the world”.
The 2014 trip generated a string of negative headlines and an outburst from Rodman during the CNN interview.
He was heavily criticised in the US for not bringing up the case of Kenneth Bae, an American imprisoned on charges of “hostile acts” who spent 735 days in North Korean custody before being released later in 2014.
Currently, North Korea is holding four Americans — Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak-song, two academics who worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology; University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier; and businessman Kim Dong Chul.
Tensions between the US and North Korea have escalated. Pyongyang has already 16 missiles this year.
North Korea believes its missile programme is the only way to deter Washington from trying to overthrow the Kim Jong-un regime.