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Dennis Rodman apologises for Kenneth Bae comments

Former US basketball star 'had been drinking' when he implied Korean-American man deserved his 15-year sentence

Retired US basketball star Dennis Rodman reported to be on board a helicopter bound for a multimillion-dollar North Korean ski resort on Thursday, possibly along with dictator Kim Jong Un, as his advisers fought to contain public outrage sparked by the star's controversial behaviour during his fourth visit to the totalitarian state.

Rodman apologised on Thursday for comments suggesting that Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American man currently serving a 15-year hard labour sentence in North Korea, deserved his fate, saying he had been drinking when he made the remarks to CNN.

Rodman has come under sharp criticism during his current visit to North Korea because of the positive comments he has made about its leader, Kim Jong Un, and aparent failure to acknowledge the country's abysmal human rights record. That criticism intensified following a CNN interview Tuesday, during which he was asked if he would bring up Bae's fate during his trip, a rambling Rodman said: "If you understand what Kenneth Bae did," adding, "Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?"

On Wednesday he led a group of retired National Basketball Association players in an exhibition game against a team of North Koreans in Pyongyang. Before the game, he serenaded the dictator by singing, "Happy Birthday, Dear Marshal". He has previously praised Kim as a "friend for life".

Shortly before his departure to the Kim's luxury showcase resort, however, Rodman issued an unequivocal apology for his comments about Bae in an email send to The Associated Press through his publicist: "I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It's not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset."

He continued: "I want to first apologise to Kenneth Bae's family. I want to apologise to my teammates and my management team. 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 family had reacted with fury to the former NBA star's initial comments. In a statement, the captive's sister, Terri Chung, said: "There is nothing diplomatic about his trip."

"My family and I are outraged by Rodman's recent comments. He is playing games with my brother's life. There is no diplomacy, only games, and at my brother's expense," she added.

Chung and other members of Bae's family could not be reached for comment about Rodman's expressions of regret.

Despite his public contrition, Rodman was sticking to his whirlwind tour of North Korea and appearing publicly with Kim.

Rodman is visiting the country just weeks after Kim's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was executed for what state media said was his involvement in an attempted coup. Observers of North Korean affairs said the execution was likely rooted in Kim's attempts to consolidate power and his anger over his uncle's efforts to enrich himself.

South Korean officials estimate the ski resort Rodman is currently visiting cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. North Korea aims to make $43.75m (£26.5m) in annual profit from the resort, according to documents prepared for potential foreign investors, and expects up to 5,000 skiers to visit a day.


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