A source with direct knowledge of Rodman's itinerary said the
52-year old took a helicopter to a new multimillion-dollar resort
that is one of Kim's showcase projects and has been condemned
as a waste of money in a country where most people are malnourished.
The source declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the
Rodman's visit to North Korea, his fourth, has drawn criticism from
human rights activists and the family of imprisoned U.S. missionary
Kenneth Bae after Rodman appeared to suggest in an interview
peppered with obscenities that Bae, rather than the North Korean
authorities, was responsible for his incarceration.
Rodman's public relations firm issued a statement attributed to the
retired player apologizing for the comments and saying that he had
been drinking on a stressful day.
It was not possible to verify with the company whether Rodman had
seen the statement as it did not reply to email or telephone
"I want to apologize, I take full responsibility," Rodman was quoted
by CNN as saying in the statement. "I embarrassed a lot of people.
I'm very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make
political statements. I'm truly sorry."
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, has said her family was outraged by
Rodman's comments and that he should use his access to the North
Korean leader to advocate on Bae's behalf, rather than "hurl
"He is playing games with my brother's life," Chung said in a
Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for state subversion
in North Korea, where he was detained in 2012 while leading a tour
group. The Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form
groups aimed at overthrowing the government.
On Wednesday, Rodman led a chorus singing "Happy Birthday" to the
leader of the isolated and heavily sanctioned country at a
basketball match that Kim attended with his wife.
North Korean state media said the song was "reflecting (Rodman's)
reverence" for Kim Jong Un, and that he had organized the game as a
gift for his birthday, confirming for the first time the leader's
date of birth. He is believed to be 31.
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea's ruling
Workers' Party, dedicated its front page to coverage of the
basketball game and published photos of Kim sitting and laughing
"Dennis Rodman said he was overjoyed and teared up when he met the
Dear Respected Marshal again," the newspaper said.
[to top of second column]
STARVED, BEATEN, ABUSED
The fading basketball star's trips had been financed by Irish
bookmaker Paddy Power, although it has now withdrawn its
It is not known whether Rodman has the capacity to fund another
trip. North Korea rarely pays for this kind of visit, according
to experts on the country.
Rodman has described Kim, who has been in power for just over
two years as his "friend".
Kim has presided over two long-range rocket launches — banned
under U.N. sanctions due to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and
proliferation efforts — a nuclear test and last year threatened
to attack South Korea, Japan and the United States.
Last month, his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was executed in one of
the biggest and most public purges undertaken in North Korea,
which has been ruled by the same family for three generations.
Jang is just one of hundreds of thousands North Koreans who have
faced death or imprisonment in the North. An estimated
150,000-200,000 people are in political prisons and forced labor
camps, according to rights activists.
Defectors have testified to summary executions and rampant human
rights abuses on North Korea. They say they were starved, beaten
and abused in work camps where many die and that babies born in
the camps were killed.
While North Koreans suffer from food shortages and malnutrition,
according to U.N. assessments, Kim has pushed ahead with big
building projects such as the Masik Ski Resort that Rodman
South Korean officials estimate it cost hundreds of millions of
dollars to build and North Korea aims to make $43.75 million in
annual profit from the resort, according to documents prepared
for potential foreign investors. It expects up to 5,000 skiers
to visit per day.
Pictures released at the resort opening late last year showed
just one chair lift and an assortment of snow equipment that
appeared to have been imported despite a U.N. ban on the export
of "luxury" goods to the North.
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Robert Birsel)
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