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(LEAD) Ex-NBA star Rodman set to arrive in N. Korea: report

All News 10:59 June 13, 2017

(ATTN: CORRECTS typo in lead; UPDATES with more info, photos throughout)

SEOUL, June 13 (Yonhap) -- NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman is expected to arrive in North Korea on Tuesday amid heightened tensions between the United States and Pyongyang, a news report said.

Former U.S. basketball star Rodman was spotted at Beijing International Airport, with his trip to North Korea coming at a time when North Korea is detaining four Americans, according to CNN.

The purpose of his visit to North Korea is unknown, but CNN said that the U.S. State Department says he is not going to visit the North in any official U.S. capacity.

It would be the fifth visit by Rodman since February 2013 when he first visited the North in what could be seen as "basketball diplomacy." He met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is known to be an avid basketball fan.

This photo carried by North Korea's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Jan. 9, 2014, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (2nd from L) and former U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman (R) watching a goodwill game held in Pyongyang. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

During his last trip in January 2014, he led a team of former NBA players in a goodwill game with a North Korean selection for Kim's birthday, which falls on Jan. 8.

North Korea's state media has yet to release a report on Rodman's visit. South Korea's unification ministry declined to comment.

His trip came amid mounting tensions between the U.S. and the North over Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear and missile programs. North Korea is developing its nuclear weapons and missiles at an alarming pace with the stated goal of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. is stepping up efforts to muster international support for further pressure on North Korea over its provocative acts.

Pyongyang also currently has four Americans detained including Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old Korean-American, and Otto Warmbier, a U.S. college student.

During his 2014 trip to the North, Rodman made remarks that appeared to blame Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American man who was held in captivity in North Korea from 2012-2014, for his detention. Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified anti-state crimes.

His comments drew criticism at that time, but Bae said in his interview with CNN in 2016 that he is grateful to Rodman for being a "catalyst" for his release from the repressive regime.

This photo unveiled by North Korea's state news agency on March 1, 2013, shows NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman surrounded by reporters at an airport in Pyongyang. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)


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