Washington/Beijing - Dennis Rodman, in a television interview on Tuesday, appeared to suggest that Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae was to blame for his captivity in North Korea, the latest in a series of controversial comments by the former US basketball star.
During an expletive-ridden interview with CNN about his fourth trip to the reclusive state, Rodman seemed to say Bae, held in North Korea since November 2012 and convicted in May on charges of crimes against the state, was responsible for his situation.
“If you understand what Kenneth Bae did ... Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?” Rodman said, declining to respond to questions to clarify what he meant.
Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said her family was “outraged” by his comments and he could “do a lot of good” by using his access to North Korea leader Kim Jong Un to advocate on Bae's behalf, rather than “hurl outrageous accusations” at her brother.
“He is playing games with my brother's life,” Chung said in a statement late on Tuesday evening. “There is no diplomacy, only games, and at my brother's expense.”
“He is clearly uninformed about Kenneth's case, and he is certainly not in any position to pass judgment,” Chung said, adding that Bae never had hostile intentions against the state.
Rodman brought a team of fellow former National Basketball Association stars to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to mark Kim's birthday, which is believed to fall on Wednesday, though this has never been officially confirmed.
The games come weeks after the execution of Kim's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who until then was one of the most powerful figures. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has described events in North Korea as a “reign of terror.”
Asked about Rodman's comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, “I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response,” emphasizing that the trip was private travel that was not endorsed by the US government.
“I'm simply going to say that we remain gravely concerned about Kenneth Bae's health, and continue to urge DPRK authorities to grant his amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” Carney said.
Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for state subversion in North Korea. He was detained in 2012 as he led a tour group through the northern region of the country. The country's Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government.
Following a visit to her son in October, Bae's mother, Myunghee Bae, said her son was “alone and ailing.”
A devout Christian, Bae has acknowledged he conducted religious services in North Korea, which has long been hostile to Westerners advocating religious causes.
U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized Rodman and the other Americans for what he called an “ill-advised” trip.
“As North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un continues to starve and oppress his citizens, it is unthinkable that a few fading celebrities would use such an opportunity to reward his brutal regime,” he said.
Rodman has faced both ridicule and harsh criticism for his trips to North Korea, which some US politicians and activists view as serving only as fodder for North Korean propaganda.
But he defended his latest visit, saying it would help “open the door” to the state and was a “great idea for the world.”
“It's amazing how we thrive on negativity. Does anyone know this guy's only 31 years old?” he said of Kim, whom he calls his friend.
“Dennis, he could be 31, he could be 51,” said CNN interviewer Chris Cuomo. “He's just killed his uncle. He's holding an American hostage.” -Reuters