Archive for the ‘Tourism’ Category

Some western tourism numbers

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

According to Reuters:

While the country does not publish tourist numbers, travel agencies estimate as many as 6,000 Westerners visit the country every year, compared to just 700 a decade ago. Most are adventure-seekers curious about life behind the last slither of the iron curtain, and ignore critics who say their dollars are propping up a repressive regime.

Beijing-based Koryo Tours, one of the biggest operators sending Westerners into North Korea, has seen a tenfold rise in business in the past decade, peaking at about 2,100 visitors in 2012, according to Simon Cockerell, its general manager.

Around a quarter of those, Cockerell said, were American.

Troy Collings of Young Pioneer Tours, another China-based foreign travel agency specialising in trips to North Korea, says his company is seeing business double annually, and had nearly 1,000 clients in the past year.

Read the full story here:
Isolated North Korea a visitor draw, but sometimes literally a tourist trap
Reuters
James Pearson
2014-6-11

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DPRK detains third American: Jeffrey Edward Fowle

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

UPDATE 6 (2014-6-30): KCNA (see also here) reports the following:

Suspicions about Hostile Acts by American against DPRK Confirmed

Pyongyang, June 30 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency made public the following report on Monday:

The relevant organ of the DPRK has made investigation into American tourists Miller Matthew Todd and Jeffrey Edward Fowle who were detained while perpetrating hostile acts after entering the territory of the DPRK.

According to the results of the investigation, suspicions about their hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies.

The relevant organ of the DPRK is carrying on the investigation into them and making preparations for bringing them before court on the basis of the already confirmed charges.

Contact with an official looking after consular affairs, treatment, etc. in the course of investigation are being made in line with the laws of the relevant country.

Here is coverage of the announcement in the Wall Street Journal,

Reuters offers this helpful summary of related events:

HAPHAZARD LEGAL SYSTEM

North Korea’s haphazard and inconsistent legal system makes it difficult to predict the outcome for the detained tourists.

It has detained and then released other Americans in the past year, including Korean War veteran Merrill Newman, whom it expelled last December after a month-long detention based on accusations of war crimes related to his service history.

Australian missionary John Short was arrested in February this year for leaving copies of bible verses at various tourist sites during his stay. Short, 75, and Newman, 86, were released on account of their advanced age and health condition, state media said in the wake of published confessions from the two men.

Another U.S. national, Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who had been arrested in November 2012, was convicted and sentenced by North Korea’s supreme court to 15 years hard labor last year.

Pyongyang has detained a number of U.S. citizens in the past, using them to extract visits by high-profile figures, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton who in 2009 helped secure the release of two U.S. journalists who had secretly entered the country by crossing into the country from China.

The journalists, Laura Ling and Korean-American Euna Lee, were released after being tried by a city court in Pyongyang and given a ten-year hard labor sentence.

But North Korea has twice canceled visits by Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, to discuss Bae’s case.

UPDATE 5 (2014-6-8): Jonathan Cheng writes more information about Mr. Fowle in the Wall Street Journal:

Jeffrey Edward Fowle, the American citizen detained by North Korea, is a municipal road-maintenance man from southwestern Ohio with a globe-trotting past.

Mr. Fowle, who was arrested by North Korea after arriving for a tour on Apr. 29, is a 56-year-old resident of Miamisburg, Ohio, a city of about 20,000 residents on the outskirts of Dayton. He attends church in nearby West Carrollton, Ohio, and repairs streets for Moraine, Ohio, population 6,307.

But Mr. Fowle’s small-town roots belied a keen interest for the wider world. Before venturing into North Korea, Mr. Fowle made regular trips to Russia with his wife and traveled to war-torn Sarajevo in early 1997, less than a year after the four-year siege of the Bosnian city was lifted.

Timothy Tepe, a Cincinnati lawyer who represents Mr. Fowle’s family, said Mr. Fowle wasn’t on a mission for Urbancrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, Ohio, where he attended church. Mr. Tepe didn’t immediately reply to requests for further comment.

Joseph Shihady, a pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in West Carrollton, where Mr. Fowle attended services on Sundays and Wednesday evenings, said Mr. Fowle traveled to North Korea as a tourist.

“He’s a fine fellow, and we’re praying that he’ll get home safely,” Mr. Shihady said. “We know he’s in danger, and we’re concerned for him.”

In Washington, the State Department said that it was aware of reports about a third U.S. citizen who had been detained in North Korea, but declined to offer more details.

Mr. Fowle and his Russian immigrant wife live with their three children and the wife’s mother, according to a September 2010 interview with Mr. Fowle by the Dayton Daily News.

WHIO, a Dayton-based CBS affiliate, on Saturday cited a family friend as saying that Mr. Fowle’s wife had tried to dissuade him from going to North Korea, calling it too dangerous.

During his eight-day trip to the former Yugoslavia in 1997, Mr. Fowle spent four days in downtown Sarajevo with a Muslim family whose apartment walls were scarred by shrapnel following a missile attack, according to an earlier interview Mr. Fowle gave to the Dayton Daily News.

Nearly two decades later, Mr. Fowle finds himself at the center of a diplomatic tangle. Rep. Michael Turner (R., Ohio), which represents Mr. Fowle’s town, said in a statement that he was “deeply troubled” that Mr. Fowle had been held.


Late last month, North Korea sentenced a Christian missionary from South Korea, Kim Jung-wook, to a life of hard labor, following his October arrest on charges of working to overthrow the regime. Seoul had pleaded for his release.

UPDATE 4 (2014-6-6): WDNT in Ohio has some information on Mr. Fowle and a photo of him and his family.

The Christian Science Monitor has more.

UPDATE 3 (2014-6-6): Choe Sang-hun and Rick Gladstone report in the New York Times that  Mr Fowle is a “A municipal worker from Ohio on a tour of North Korea”.

The Korean Central News Agency provided no further details about Mr. Fowle but local media in the Dayton, Ohio, area said that he was a 56-year-old municipal worker in the suburb of Moraine and had a wife and three children. The website of the Dayton Daily News said the Moraine city manager, David Hicks, had described him as a longtime employee. Telephone messages left on Mr. Fowle’s home telephone answering machine and with Mr. Hicks’s office were not returned.

UPDATE 2 (2014-6-6): The Guardian reports (via other sources) that Mr. Fowle was being detained for leaving a Bible in his hotel room.

Jonathan Cheng reports in the Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE 1 (2014-6-6): According to KCNA:

American Citizen Detained in DPRK

Pyongyang, June 6 (KCNA) — American citizen Jeffrey Edward Fowle entered the DPRK as a tourist on April 29 and acted in violation of the DPRK law, contrary to the purpose of tourism during his stay.

A relevant organ of the DPRK detained him and is investigating him.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-6-5): According to Reuters:

North Korea detained another U.S. citizen in mid-May, bringing the total to three currently being held in the country, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said on Friday, quoting diplomatic sources.

The man was part of a tour group who was detained just before he was set to leave the country, according to the sources.

In April, the North said it had detained an American, Matthew Todd Miller, who had arranged a private tour of the country through a U.S. company. North Korea is also holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary who was arrested in 2012 and has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of state subversion.

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Chinese tourists to visit DPRK side of Mt. Paektu

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

paektu-tourism-2014-6-4

Pictured above (Google Earth): Mt. Paektu and the locations of tourist infrastructure on the Chinese and Korean side of the border.

According to Yonhap:

North Korea is set to open its portion of the Korean Peninsula’s highest mountain to Chinese tourists this month, a travel agency official said Wednesday, resuming the tour route that has been suspended since the North conducted its third nuclear test.

If realized, it would represent another bid by North Korea to increase tourism income by approving more tour routes that start in Chinese cities.

The peninsula’s highest peak, Mt. Baekdu, sits on the border between North Korea and China. Tourists can visit the Chinese side of the mountain, but the tour route to the North Korean portion has been halted following the North’s nuclear test in February last year.

The two-day or three-day tour to the North Korean side of the 2,749-meter mountain starts from the Chinese border city of Helong in the northeast of China. Helong is part of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Jilin Province and a popular border town for travel to North Korea.

The official at the travel agency in Helong, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the tour route will be reopened in the middle of this month.

“It is the only route for tourists from China to see the eastern side of Mt. Baekdu,” the official said, adding that the trip will only be available for Chinese tourists.

The two-day trip will cost 1,100 yuan (US$175.8) per person and the three-day trip will cost 1,350 yuan, according to the official.

North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive and isolated nations, but Pyongyang has stepped up efforts to attract foreign tourists, particularly those from China.

Earlier last month, North Korea started its first one-day cycling trip from the Chinese border city of Tumen. The tour is not available for non-Chinese travelers.

Recently the DPRK has also welcomed day tourists to Namyang and Hoeryong.

Previous posts on tourism here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea, China to resume tours to Korean Peninsula’s highest mountain
Yonhap
2014-6-4

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DPRK reports number of Chinese tourists entering Rason by car

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

According to KCNA:

Number of Chinese Tourists Grows in DPRK

Pyongyang, June 2 (KCNA) — The tour by Chinese was conducted in the Rason area of the DPRK from May 31 to June 2, under an agreement made between the DPRK’s Rason International Travel Company and China’s Yanbian Arirang International Travel Agency.

Involving in the tour were more than 40 Chinese, who toured Pipha Islet, the Rason Taehung Trading Company, Rajin Port and other places by private cars.

This was the eighth batch of Chinese this year to visit the DPRK by private cars.

In this regard, an official at the Tourism Bureau of the Rason City People’s Committee, told KCNA:

“The tour by private cars began in June Juche 100 (2011), with due ceremony in the Rason economic and trade zone. Since then, more than 1 300 tourists have made trips to the area by more than 300 private cars in 70-odd batches.
Other forms of tourism are expected to grow in scope.”

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Chinese tourists take day-long bus tour of Hoeryong

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

According to China Daily:

A one-day bus tour from the northeast China border city of Longjing to Hoeryong in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was launched on Tuesday.

The opening of the route will enable Chinese tourists to arrive in Hoeryong directly, without transferring to a DPRK vehicle at the port, according to Wang Jing, a government worker from Longjing in Jilin Province.

“This will save tourists a lot of time and facilitate the whole journey,” Wang said.

A total of 134 tourists joined the tour on the first day of the route opening.

The trip costs 580 yuan (94 US dollars) per tourist. Tourists can visit historical sites on the DPRK side, taste Korean delicacies and enjoy performances by DPRK artists.

China and the DPRK have in recent years witnessed booming border tourism on the back of multiple travel schemes aimed at boosting the regional economy.

The DPRK has opened several cities for group tours from China, including Rason, Namyang, Chongjin and Mount Kumgang. About 10,000 tourists from Yanbian, also in Jilin, visit the DPRK annually.

The process for for preparing Hoeryong for Chinese tourists has been underway for several years. Hoeryong’s “Food Avenue” was completed in 2010. Chinese tourists started showing up in 2012. Western tourists started showing up in 2013.

Just a few days ago, the Chinese and DPRK launched day-long bicycle tours of Namyang. Previously, Chinese tourists could only take day tours of Sinuiju (an experience that is now available to western tourists) and Rason.

UPDATE: Here is coverage in KCNA (2014-6-4):

One-day Bus Tour of Hoeryong by Chinese People

Pyongyang, June 3 (KCNA) — Chinese people made the first one-day bus tour of Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province, the DPRK.

After the tour, the Chinese tourists told that they were deeply impressed by their visit to the DPRK.
Jin Bo (male: 55), deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Office in Yanbian Korean Nationality Autonomous

Prefecture, told as follows:

The one-day tour from Longjin to Hoeryong, China by Chinese bus helped the tourists deepen their friendly feelings towards the DPRK.

The tourism course was very excellent. Many tourists said that they felt as if they were in Pyongyang.

I think one-day tour of Hoeryong will be one of major attractions for Chinese in the near future.

Sha Chunxia (female: 44), a staff of Yanbian News, said:

I was deeply moved to see an art performance given by kindergarteners.

It was hardly believable that the five-or six-year old children could give such an excellent performance.

I have never thought of giving art education to my daughter.

The educational system in the DPRK is very admirable.

I want my daughter to be educated under such excellent system.

Later, I will come together with my daughter to see the performance.

Read the full story here:
China, DPRK border cities open one-day bus tour
China Daily
2014-5-27

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Chinese tourism in Namyang, DPRK

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Namyang-2013-7

Pictured above: Tumen China (left), Namyang, DPRK (Right)

UPDATE: On May 23, 2014 China announced it is upgrading the transportation infrastructure connecting to Namyang.

According to Xinhua:

A border city in northeast China launched Friday bicycle tours to the neighboring Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as tourism to the country booms.

Thirty-five Chinese tourists joined the first self-drive travel by bicycle from Tumen City, Jilin Province, to DPRK’s Namyang city, said organizers. The tourists spent three hours in the DPRK.

The bicycle tour is inexpensive and only needs simple procedures, said an official of the Tumen Tourism Bureau. He said the route is expected to attract more tourists to the DPRK.

Excursions by train from Tumen to the DPRK’s Chilbosan resumed on Wednesday. The tourist train was launched in April 2012, but was later suspended.

Tumen has highway and railway service to the DPRK.

Xinhua also posted this story which offers more context:

Tourism to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is booming in northeast China border cities on the back of multiple travel schemes aimed at boosting the regional economy.

On Friday, Zhao Xin beamed with joy as he joined the first group of cyclists from Tumen City, Jilin Province, to DPRK’s Namyang city.

Tumen, under the jurisdiction of Yanbian, a Korean autonomous prefecture in Jilin, is separated from DPRK by the Tumen River. The cross-border city is linked with DPRK by highways and railways.

Amid high spirits, Zhao, a travel agent from Yanbian, was among thirty-five Chinese tourists in the DPRK, visiting the Namyang Railway Station, Kim Il-sun’ s statue, and enjoying local delicacies in a famous downtown street during a one-day visit.

“The city is quite unique and full of energy,” Zhao told Xinhua, hoping that more DPRK cities would join the list of the travel-by-bicycle initiative so that he could enjoy more sightseeing as well as the local gastronomical culture.

For Chen Boyi, taking a train is a splendid choice to tour the neighboring country. Chen said that her excursion during the Workers’ Day holiday helped unravel some mysteries of DPRK.

“Namyang is very clean and the local people warm-hearted,” Chen, 21, said.

Excursions by train from Tumen to the DPRK’s Chilbosan resumed two days before the bicycle tour program. The tourist train was launched in April 2012, but was later suspended.

The train and bicycle tours are the latest effort to ramp up the cross-border tourism.

In April, the city of Ji’an, Jilin, launched regular tourist trains to Pyongyang, Kaesong and Panmunjom in the DPRK, making it the second city after Dandong in the neighboring Liaoning Province with such services.

In 2013, Tumen city simplified applications for non-local visitors, allowing them to enter the DPRK on the same day they arrive in Tumen.

Meanwhile, the DPRK has opened several cities for group tours from China, including Rason, Namyang, Chongjin and the Mount Kumgang.

The schemes have powered the past few years of tourism boom. About 10,000 tourists from Yanbian alone visit the DPRK annually.

With a variety of travel means, it will be more convenient to visit the DPRK, said Ji Run, a tourist who has just wrapped a visit to the country.

“I would like to come back in the future,” he said.

Yonhap also reports:

North Korea and China have simplified border-crossing procedures for Chinese tourists traveling to the North, China’s state media reported Monday, in another sign that Pyongyang is eager to boost tourism income.

The move allows Chinese people who take tours from China’s border cities in Jilin and Liaoning provinces to get a “travel pass” to North Korea within 24 hours, compared with the previous two days, the state-run China Daily reported.

The report did not elaborate when the simplified procedures took effect, but North Korea started a new one-day tour program last week by opening its border to bicycle tourists from China for the first time.

The newspaper carried a photo of Chinese tourists entering North Korea by taking bicycles from the northeastern city of Tumen in Jilin province to the North Korean border city of Onsong.

Last week, China resumed train operations on a route from Tumen to the North’s northeastern port city of Chongjin, after a year of renovation, the report said.

Zhang Weidong, an official at a Chinese travel agency responsible for the train travel, told the newspaper that more than 2,000 tourists used the train in 2012 before the renovation.

“The number is estimated to rise to 7,000 this year,” Zhang said.

The four-day train trip to North Korea costs about 1,900 yuan (US$304), the report said.

North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive and isolated nations, but since last year, Pyongyang has stepped up efforts to attract foreign tourists, including offering more international and domestic flights.

Read the full stories here:
Chinese city launches bicycle tours to DPRK
Xinhua
2014-5-2

N. Korea, China simplify border-crossing for Chinese tourists
Yonhap
2014-5-5

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North Korea sstablishes Pyongyang Tourism College

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-4-24

The Choson Sinbo, a news outlet published by the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, reported on April 16, 2014 that North Korea has recently established the Pyongyang Tourism College with the hopes of educating and training specialists in the tourism and travel industry.
 
According to the news, the establishment of Pyongyang Tourism College is a part of “national initiatives to revitalize the tourism industry.” In addition to the college, the Choson Sinbo also reported that tourism departments have also been established at colleges of education at other regional universities in North Korea.
 
The Pyongyang Tourism College, which began construction just a year ago in East Pyongyang, was launched as a predecessor to the Department of Tourism Services of Pyongyang Jang Chol Gu University of Commerce. Other specialized academic departments such as foreign language departments (of English, Chinese, and Russian) and tourism information, administration, and development departments were established to foster the training of tourism specialists. In addition, business and industry-related departments, and an academic research center for tourism industry were established.
 
This year, most of the new students entering the college are graduates of Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and other foreign language academies in other provinces. Furthermore, students who graduate from the Pyongyang Tourism College are granted certification as “Tourism Experts.” The dean of Pyongyang Tourism College, Cho Hong Je, expressed his confidence in the school, promising the “extensive cultivation” of tourism industry experts: “Even though we have just begun . . . there are plans for active exchanges with other countries advanced tourism industries.”
 
The college is also expected to form a sister-school agreement with Peking University. The first classes for tourism departments in other provincial colleges of education have already begun (as of April 1). The establishment of these departments, and more importantly the industry-specific Pyongyang Tourism College, can be interpreted as efforts to invigorate the nation’s tourism industry. Previously, the Choson Sinbo ran an article on March 22, 2014 that first introduced North Korea’s plan to boost its tourism industry through the education and training of specialists, citing the launch of the Tourism Economics and Tourism Management departments at the Wonsan University of Economics — also known as Jong Jun Thaek University of Economics.
 
North Korea is now making greater efforts to bring in visitors from China as North Korea struggled to draw in foreign currency through tourism last year following their third nuclear test, which is pointed at being responsible for causing the slump in Chinese tourists to North Korea. According to the Chinese tourism industry, North Korea has once again begun to offer “themed package deals” aimed at attracting Chinese tourists during peak visiting season. These package deals, which had previously been suspended, have returned and will be offered around China’s Labor Day holiday period.
 
On April 13, 2014, a sightseeing train connecting Ji’an — a city in the Jilin province along the China-North Korean border — to Pyongyang has been reopened after being suspended for 12 years. Departing from Ji’an, Chinese tourists will enjoy a five-day sightseeing course that will take them to Mt. Myohang, Pyongyang, Kaesong, and other areas. Another sightseeing train connecting Tumen and Mt. Chilbo is expected to be reopened soon.
 
In addition to these package tours, North Korea also has been working together with travel agencies in the border area of Jilin to promote a three-day automobile tour of the Rason area. These developments come shortly after a North Korean delegation’s recent visit to Shanghai to discuss plans to strengthen the cooperation between the two nations’ tourism industries.
 
According to Chinese state media, the North Korean delegation intensively studied the development and practices of the Chinese tourism industry during their visit, and was especially impressed by the development of Shanghai’s city tour program.

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China seeking to boost Chinese tourist numbers

Monday, April 14th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

China has launched the second train service to North Korea, state media reported Monday, a move expected to boost travel between the two nations.

The Sunday opening of regular rail services from China’s northeastern city of Jian to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang makes Jian the second city offering such service after another Chinese border city of Dandong, Xinhua news agency reported.

North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive and isolated nations, but Pyongyang has stepped up efforts to attract foreign tourists since last year by offering more international and domestic flights.

In Jian, Chinese tourists can apply for a one-day round trip, which is available once every four days, to North Korea for US$480 per person, the report said.

Zang Wanghong, director of the Jian Tourist Board, said the tour agency will begin selling the tour package to the North’s western port city of Manpo before May 1, according to the report.

According to Xinhua:

A group of 32 Chinese tourists on Sunday took a train from Ji’an City in northeast China’s Jilin Province for five-day trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The opening of the train route makes Ji’an, the second city after Dandong in neighboring Liaoning Province with service to DPRK.

The train from Ji’an can take tourists to Pyongyang, Kaesong and Panmunjom in DPRK, according to Liu Jun, deputy manager of the Ji’an International Travel Agency.

Both Ji’an and Dandong face DPRK across the Yalu River. The distance between Ji’an and DPRK’s capital of Pyongyang is 400 km, while that between Dandong and Pyongyang is about 200 km.

Chinese visitors with ID cards and passports can apply for the 2,980 yuan(480 U.S. dollar) visit in Ji’an. The trip is organized every four days.

Zang Wanghong, director of the Ji’an Tourist Board, said Ji’an will open a one-day tour to Manpo, a port city on the western coast of DPRK before May 1.

Ji’an which boasts a UNESCO world heritage site of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom hopes to develop tourism based on its own resources and its adjacency to DPRK, said Zang.

Read the full story here:
China starts 2nd rail travel service to N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-4-14

Another Chinese city opens train travel to Pyongyang
Xinhua
2014-4-13

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DPRK visitors to China increase in 2013

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The number of North Korean visitors to China rose about 11 percent on-year to top 200,000 for the first time in 2013, Chinese government data showed Tuesday, in the latest sign that the flow of people between the allies was unaffected by geopolitical tensions.

About 206,600 North Koreans traveled to China last year, compared with 186,000 in 2012, the data from China’s National Tourism Administration showed.

It was the first time that the annual number of North Korean tourists to China exceeded 200,000 since the Chinese tourism administration began releasing data in 2005.

NK News reports additional data:

93,300 work visas were given to North Korean citizens[.]

Goeffrey See comments that part of the increase can be explained by repeat travelers.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean tourists to China rise 11 pct in 2013
Yonhap
2014-1-21

Work visas for North Koreans going to China up 17.2%
NK News
Oliver Hoffman
2014-1-21

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Dennis Rodman’s fourth trip to North Korea

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

UPDATE 9 (2014-1-18): Joseph Terwilliger gives an interview here.

UPDATE 8 (2014-1-18): The AP reports that Rodman has checked into rehab:

Dennis Rodman has checked into an undisclosed alcohol rehabilitation center to treat his long-time struggle with alcoholism, his agent says.

Darren Prince declined on Saturday to say which facility will treat Rodman and how long he will be there. Rodman recently returned to the United States from his latest trip to North Korea.

He later apologized for comments he made in North Korea about a detained American missionary, saying he had been drinking and was under pressure as he organized an exhibition game there. He also sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the start of the friendly game.

“What was potentially a historic and monumental event turned into a nightmare for everyone concerned,” Prince said. “Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination `super human’ political figure and `fixer’ got the better of him.

“He is embarrassed, saddened and remorseful for the anger and hurt his words have caused.”

UPDATE 7 (2014-1-14): The apologies, via the Associated Press:

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman apologized on Monday for not being able to help an American missionary detained in North Korea while he played there to celebrate the birthday of his friend and leader Kim Jong Un.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything,” Rodman told media on his arrival at Beijing airport from a weeklong trip. “It’s not my fault. I’m sorry. I just want to do some good stuff, that’s all I want to do.”

He said he would return to North Korea next month, but gave no details.


Acknowledging the controversy surrounding the trip, one of the players, Charles D. Smith, said Rodman “opened the door and he did some missteps along the way.”

In an interview in Beijing, Smith said Rodman’s singing of “Happy Birthday” to Kim before the exhibition game at a Pyongyang stadium was something that he alone had decided to do. “I think that it might not have been the right thing to do, but he did it … if it was done in private it would be different, but when it’s done in the open like that, people are going to have opinions.”

During the trip, Rodman was also slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, the missionary in poor health who has been detained for more than a year for “anti-state crimes.” Rodman apologized last week for comments he made in a CNN interview implying Bae was at fault, saying he had been drinking and was upset because some of his teammates were under pressure to leave.

Smith said the controversy surrounding Bae was a “bad situation” that “overshadowed some of the things that we were doing.”

“Dennis is not a member of the State Department, he is not a member of the U.N.,” Smith said. “For them to put the flag in his hands and say go and negotiate and talk about it, he probably would have made it worse, you know.”

He said North Korean officials had invited the team back “at any given time.”

On Monday, Rodman reiterated that his trip was one of goodwill.

“This is not a bad deal,” he said. “I want to show people that no matter what’s going on in the world, for one day, just one day, no politics, not all that stuff.

“I’m sorry for all the people and what’s going on, I’m sorry,” he continued. “I’m not the president, I’m not an ambassador, I’m just an individual that wants to show the world the fact that we can actually get along and be happy for one day.”

Rodman and Kim struck up a friendship when the basketball-player-turned-celebrity first traveled to the secretive state last year.

UPDATE 6 (2014-1-9): KCTV footage of the visit has been made public. The fist video shows Rodman’s delegation meeting with Kim Jong-un, presenting him with customized vodka bottles, singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un, then offers game highlights.

The second video shows the game itself.

UPDATE 5 (2014-1-8): Dennis Rodman sings “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un. Here is Simon Cockerell talking about the game via Skype.

UPDATE 4 (2014-1-8): According to the Daily NK, the DPRK is using the Rodman game to treat Chinese investors.

A source in China informed Daily NK on the 8th, “Some Chinese traders who have given a great deal to projects in Pyongyang, including the construction of department stores, shops and restaurants, have been invited to go and celebrate Kim Jong Eun’s birthday. All accommodation, food and travel while in the country is being covered by the Chosun side, and all other expenses are to be borne by the invitee.”

“Chosun [North Korea] has only invited a select group, and there will only be two or three officials from the Chinese side, so the total number of people won’t have exceeded 30. Their schedules for today are to attend the friendly basketball game and then inspect Pyongyang [Munsu] Water Park. Later there will be a tour of Kaesong and Panmunjom, and I hear that a number of banquets have been prepared,” the source went on.

By hosting the group in this way, Kim Jong Eun is following in the footsteps of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, both of whom invited foreign business people and dignitaries to partake of their birthday celebrations. The only difference is the small number of invitees, the lack of publicity outside the country thus far, and the fact that today is not actually a North Korean public holiday.

“Kim Jong Eun has not done much in terms of showing himself off as yet,” the source posited, “and since he has a great many things to worry about at home right now, such as the execution of Jang Song Taek, he cannot host a large spectacle for this birthday this year. Nevertheless, it does appear that they want to convey their gratitude to foreign investors, so he’s invited them to help him celebrate.”

Furthermore, “These invitations have been extended because there is a sense of urgency about attracting investment for special economic zones and other projects that call for capital. After creating a genial atmosphere via the tourist activities, they will actively work to encourage the invitees to invest in things like the construction of water parks in each major city.”

Meanwhile, a second source has revealed that the North Korean authorities have also summoned a select group of provincial cadres to Pyongyang for the birthday celebrations. The source from North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK, “Some provincial cadres have gone up to Pyongyang for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Eun’s) birthday celebrations on January 8th. This has not been officially reported to the people, and cadres are the only ones being quietly called up.”

UPDATE 3 (2014-1-7): Dennis Rodman completely lost it during this live interview on CNN. Here is Andray Abrahamian’s response.

UPDATE 2 (2014-1-7): A traveler visiting the DPRK to see the Dennis Rodman game has introduced Bitcoin to the DPRK. Here is an instagram photo of the first Bitcoin transaction in the DPRK.

UPDATE 1 (2014-1-6): Apparently Paddy Power is still funding this trip despite publicly bowing out during Rodman’s last visit. According to the Irish Times:

Just before Christmas, Paddy Power withdrew sponsorship of Rodman’s event, saying this was as a result of general condemnation of Pyongyang. This followed the rare public purge of leader Kim’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was executed last month.

The company said it “took a back seat” after those events but would still “honour all of its contractual obligations”.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-1-4): Rodman has made three trips to the DPRK. Here are links to the first, second and third trips. In a gesture towards his fourth trip he has named a slate of basketball players that will be joining him for an exhibition match in honor of Kim Jong-un’s birthday.

According to Sports Illustrated:

Dennis Rodman has named a team of former NBA players to participate in an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Rodman leads a team that includes former NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, and Vin Baker. Craig Hodges, Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith are on the team, as well. They will play against a top North Korean Senior National team on Jan. 8, marking Kim Jong Un’s birthday.

and…

Rodman calls the game his version of “basketball diplomacy.”

“My previous travels have allowed me to feel the enthusiasm and warmth of fans,” Rodman said. “The positive memories and smiles on the faces of the children and families are a testament to the great efforts we have put into fulfilling our mission wherever we go voiding any politics. We are all looking forward to arriving in Pyongyang, meeting the citizens, visiting various charities and using the opportunity to develop new relationships that result in our annual return.”

Here is some more infor on the players.

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