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Dennis Rodman says North Korea trip is social

HONG KONG — Dennis Rodman, the former basketball star, returned Tuesday to North Korea, where he said he planned to see “my friend” Kim Jong Un, the dictator whose country until recently was threatening to annihilate the United States with nuclear weapons.

Rodman said in Beijing that he was planning a five-day visit to the North but played down speculation that he would try to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary who has been jailed there since late last year after being detained on North Korean soil.

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“I’m not going to North Korea to discuss freeing Kenneth Bae,” Rodman, a Basketball Hall of Fame member, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “I’m just going there on another basketball diplomacy tour.” Kim is known to be a fervent basketball fan, and the two watched a game together during Rodman’s previous visit.

His visit comes amid a thaw in relations between North and South Korea, sworn enemies that just months ago appeared to be on the brink of military conflict.

Rodman’s last trip to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, was sponsored by Vice Media, and he drew wide criticism for cozying up to a government with a long record of human rights abuses. The current trip is being sponsored by Paddy Power, an Irish gambling operation, he said. After Rodman’s first North Korea trip, Paddy Power sent Rodman to Vatican City to urge people to place bets on the identity of the new pope.

But Rodman said this trip to see Kim was all about friendship — and sports.

“I’ve come out here to see my friend,” he said. “I want to talk about basketball.”

During his visit to North Korea in March, Rodman told reporters in Pyongyang that North Koreans “love” Kim Jong Un, adding, “I love him — the guy’s awesome.”

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