Dennis Rodman visits North Korea

Onyeka Ibeanusi  | Wednesday, 18 December 2013 | 728 Total Views

Dennis Rodman

American basketballer Dennis Rodman's visit to North Korea to help train the country’s basketball stars has not been disrupted by the political convulsions there, notably the execution of the leader’s uncle last week on charges of treason and debauchery.

Mr. Rodman, whose trip is being sponsored by an Irish online betting company won five N.B.A. championships with the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday and plans to travel to North Korea on Thursday with a documentary film crew, Rory Scott, a spokesman for the company, Paddy Power of Dublin, said in a telephone interview from Beijing. Mr. Scott said they would leave North Korea on Monday.

“We spoke to a lot of experts who said it’s safe for foreigners to travel to North Korea,” he said.

Mr. Rodman visited North Korea this past winter and befriended its leader, Kim Jong-un, 30, a fan of American basketball. Mr. Rodman was one of the first Westerners to meet Mr. Kim after he took power two years ago upon the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. Mr. Rodman also visited Mr. Kim a second time for a few days this past summer.

The plan for Mr. Rodman to make a third visit had been made before the abrupt change in North Korea’s leadership, culminating in the announcement Thursday that Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had long been considered the No. 2 leader, had been executed over accusations that included plotting a coup, womanizing, gambling and drug abuse.

Mr. Jang’s abrupt downfall and the unusual publicity given to it by the secretive North Korean government have created intense speculation about a political power struggle that could make the hermetic country more unstable and unpredictable.

Conspicuously absent at the memorial service was Mr. Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong-hui, an aunt of Mr. Kim. But analysts believe she has survived her husband’s purge, as the North’s state media has cited her name in leadership lists.