PYONGYANG, North Korea, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea Tuesday amid speculation the former NBA star may seek the release of an American imprisoned in the communist country.
Rodman -- who calls Kim Jong Un, the unpredictable North Korean leader, a friend -- is making his second trip to the isolated country, where Korean-American Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after being arrested last November. Rodman's first trip in March kicked up much controversy at a time when the North's belligerence and threats against the United States and South Korea were at their harshest.
The New York Times quoted Rodman as saying the current trip was to see Kim about friendship and sports. "I've come out here to see my friend. I want to talk about basketball."
The trip, however, raised speculation Rodman, during his five-day stay, may seek the release of Bae, whose various health problems and plea to be reunited with his family have become a matter of concern for the U.S. government. The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.
Xinhua, the official news agency of China, which is North Korea's closest ally, reported Rodman's arrival in Pyongyang "at the invitation" of North Korea's sports authority and said he was accompanied by Michael Peter Spavor, a Canadian non-government organization official, Joseph Douglas Tervillinger, a Columbia University professor, and Christopher Volo, a member of the Prince marketing group.
"They will stay till Sunday, visiting Mount Kumgang during their time here. It is not clear whether they will meet DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of North Korea] leader Kim Jong Un."
Xinhua noted Rodman previous visit came "when tensions on the Korean Peninsula had soared after Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12."
The report said during that visit, Rodman attended an exhibition basketball match with Kim.
Rodman's current visit assumes significance after the North recently invited Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, last week only to abruptly cancel the invitation. King had been scheduled to negotiate amnesty for Bae.
Rodman's trip is s being sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, CNN reported. The report said Rodman has previously made no secret about his desire to help Bae.