North Korea

Dennis Rodman offers to take Kenneth Bae's place in a North Korean jail

Ex-NBA star criticised for view on Kenneth Bae's jailing by Pyongyang would serve his sentence

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 February, 2014, 6:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 February, 2014, 5:53am

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman offered to take the place of an imprisoned Korean- American in North Korea, as he spoke publicly for the first time from a rehab facility.

Rodman, 52, appeared on CNN less than a month after his fourth trip within 12 months to North Korea, where he sang Happy Birthday to supreme leader Kim Jong-un, whom he calls a personal friend.

He said he felt for the family of Kenneth Bae, 45, a devout Christian tour operator arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for allegedly importing "inflammatory" material.

"I feel for them deeply," he told CNN's New Day programme.

"Like I said, I will do anything, literally anything - this is Dennis Rodman talking - if they say, 'We'll take Dennis Rodman and let Kenneth Bae go,' straightaway, take me.

"I will do that ... I have no problem," he added.

Upon leaving North Korea last month, Rodman prompted outrage when he suggested on the same CNN programme that Bae was responsible for his own fate.

The player later apologised and blamed alcohol for his remarks.

Bae's sister Terri Chung declined to react to Rodman's latest remarks, saying: "We are going to decline politely from making any comments at this time."

Rodman, who checked into a rehab facility in New Jersey upon his return to the United States, also spoke of his alcoholism, stating: "I've always been a party animal (and) the reason I drink is because I'm bored."

Of North Korea's leader, he said: "I don't know him as a dictator. With him, he's a 31-year-old guy and I call him a kid all the time, and yeah, he's my friend.

"I look at him as that because he gave me the opportunity to at least come in to the country of North Korea to bring a basketball team, to show the world, just show the world that we can actually get along," Rodman added.

Kim is reportedly a huge fan of basketball and especially the Chicago Bulls, with whom Rodman won three NBA titles.

Rodman also insisted he was "not a traitor" for paying repeat visits to a country that the United States regards as a major threat to regional security.

"I've never been a traitor," he said. "I want to make people happy in the world ... My intentions are not bad intentions. I want people to understand that."

Bae's mother and sister attended President Barack Obama's state-of-the-union speech in Washington last week in a sign that the US government is not forgetting his plight.

Washington has said it is ready to send its envoy on human rights in North Korea, Robert King, to Pyongyang to help bring Bae back to the United States.