Ex-NBA star Rodman heads to North Korea as private citizen

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This photo carried by North Korea's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun on January 9, 2014, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (2nd from L) and former USA basketball player Dennis Rodman (R) watching a goodwill game held in Pyongyang.

Asked if he had spoken to Trump about his trip, he said, "Well, I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy with the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need".

In 2014, he arranged a basketball game with other former NBA players and North Koreans and regaled leader Kim Jong Un with a rendition of "Happy Birthday".

Currently, four Americans are being held in North Korea, including Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak-song, two academics who worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier and businessman Kim Dong Chul.

The goal of his visit to North Korea is unknown, but CNN said that the U.S. State Department says he is not going to visit the North in any official U.S. capacity.

Mr Rodman was spotted in Beijing's worldwide airport en route to Pyongyang, his fifth time in the isolated dictatorship, and his first since a disastrous visit in 2014 during which he was denounced for singing Happy Birthday to Mr Kim.

Rodman, 56, nicknamed "The Worm" during his playing career and known for his tattoos, body piercings and multi-colored hair, is considered one of the best defensive players and rebounders in National Basketball Association history.

Rodman has met Kim on some but not all of his previous trips.

Four Americans are also now detained in North Korea.

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The drone was found in a South Korean border town last Friday and South Korean investigators have discovered hundreds of photos in its Sony-made camera, a Defense Ministry official said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.

As well as counting the North Korean dictator as a friend, Rodman is said to be close to US President Donald Trump.

Rodman's North Korea visits over the years have fueled speculation that he could somehow facilitate a diplomatic breakthrough between Pyongyang and Washington.

The Irish betting website ended its relationship with him in December 2013 as criticism mounted, saying it was responding to "the worldwide scrutiny and condemnation of the North Korean regime in recent weeks".

The drone was believed to have crashed because it ran short of fuel while returning to North Korea.

The young Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, is reported to be a keen basketball fan and especially of the Chicago Bulls, for whom Rodman played a key role in winning three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s. Rodman, who appeared on Trump's reality TV show in 2009 and again in 2013, went on to endorse Trump's candidacy in 2015.

He has previously described his visits - including one in 2013 with the Harlem Globetrotters - as "basketball diplomacy" but has been roundly criticised for failing to raise human rights issues or the plight of USA missionary Kenneth Bae, who was detained at the time.

"We are aware of his visit".

Rodman has made several visits to North Korea.

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