Channel NewsAsia

Rodman offers to take jailed American's place in N Korea

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

WASHINGTON: Former basketball star Dennis Rodman offered on Friday to take the place of an imprisoned US missionary in North Korea, as he spoke publicly for the first time from a rehab facility.

Rodman, 52, appeared on CNN television's "New Day" program less than a month after his fourth trip within 12 months to North Korea where he sang "Happy Birthday" to its supreme leader Kim Jong-un, who he calls a personal friend.

He said he felt for the family of Kenneth Bae, arrested in November 2012 and later sentenced to hard labour for allegedly importing "inflammatory" material as a Christian evangelist.

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

"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 earlier this month, Rodman prompted outrage when he suggested that Bae was responsible for his own fate. He later apologized and blamed alcohol for his remarks.

Asked on CNN on Friday if he wanted to apologize to Bae's family, the eccentric National Basketball Association veteran replied: "I don't know the Bae family."

In an email to AFP, 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 he was "not a traitor" for paying repeat visits to a country that the United States regards as a major threat to regional security in the Asia-Pacific region.

"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."

Kim is reported to be a huge fan of basketball and especially of the Chicago Bulls, with whom Rodman won three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.

Bae's mother and sister attended President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address in Washington on Tuesday, a sign of that the US government is not forgetting his plight.

Washington has said it was ready to send its envoy on human rights in North Korea, Robert King, to the reclusive East Asian nation to help bring Bae back to the United States.

On January 20, Bae appeared at a press conference in Pyongyang at which he admitted to wrongdoing and appealed to Washington to help secure his release "at the earliest possible date," Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

There was no way of knowing if Bae, whose Korean name is Pae Jun-Ho, was speaking under duress.

Bae is reported to be suffering serious health problems and to have lost more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms) since being jailed.

At the press conference, Bae claimed he was in normal health after five months of treatment in hospital, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna