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Dennis Rodman back to N.Korea despite political tension

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[December 17, 2013]  By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters)  Retired basketball star Dennis Rodman will return to North Korea for a third time on Thursday, despite political tension surrounding the execution of leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, trip organizers said.

"It's certainly safe, even when there is a bit of disruption like there is now a bit of trouble or chaos there's even more need for cultural or sporting exchanges," said Rory Scott, a spokesman for Irish bookmakers Paddy Power, which has arranged the trip.

Rodman has visited Pyongyang on two other occasions, during which he spent time dining as a guest of Kim Jong Un, with whom he says he has a genuine friendship.

In Washington, a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, sought to distance the U.S. government from Rodman's visit.

"We have not been contacted by Mr. Rodman about his trip to North Korea," said the official. "The State Department does not vet U.S. citizens' private travel to the DPRK."

In a rare admission of factionalism within the North Korean government, Jang Song Thaek was purged and then executed last week  a period South Korean President Park Geun-hye described as a "reign of terror".

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Rodman is expected to provide North Korea's national basketball team with four days of training. He also intends to return to Pyongyang in January with a team of fellow former National Basketball Association stars to hold basketball games on Kim Jong Un's birthday.

"Dennis is going to spend a couple of days training the North Korean team to get them shipshape for the January match," Scott said.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan and Ken Wills)

[ 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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