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Rodman ends N. Korea visit

Ex-NBA star notes student’s release; 3 Americans still held

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Photographs by AP/MARK SCHIEFELBEIN

Former NBA player Dennis Rodman arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport on Saturday after a flight from Pyongyang, North Korea.

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, vowing to return soon, on Saturday wrapped up a low-key and incident-free visit to the North Korean capital.

On his way to the airport, Rodman vowed to return and said his "thoughts and prayers" are with the family of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was arrested and imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months, then released just hours before Rodman's arrival.

Warmbier suffered severe brain damage while in custody. Doctors in Ohio described him as being in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness" but declined to discuss his outlook for improvement, saying such information would be kept confidential.

U.S. and North Korean officials said Rodman played no role in freeing Warmbier and the timing of the release and Rodman's arrival was a coincidence.

Three more American citizens remain in North Korean custody.

Joseph Yun, the point man on North Korea for President Donald Trump's administration, went to Pyongyang on Monday and left on a U.S. military medical evacuation plane with Warmbier on Tuesday afternoon, just a few hours after Rodman arrived. Yun is continuing his efforts to have the remaining three hostages released.

One person involved in the negotiations said they are aiming to have the three released by the end of this month, although another suggested it could take longer than that.

Kim Dong-chul, a 63-year-old former Fairfax County, Va., resident, was arrested in October 2015, a few months before Warmbier, and accused of espionage and subversion.

Two Americans affiliated with Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a private institution run by Korean-American Christians, were detained separately in April and May.

Kim Hak-song, who was an agricultural consultant at the university, was detained in early May, barely a week after the arrest of Kim Sang-dok, also known as Tony Kim, who had been teaching a class in international finance and management at the university.

Yun met with all three during his visit to Pyongyang last week. They were reported to be in reasonable condition.

Rodman visited important regime monuments, coached a women's basketball team, and presented gifts to his host, the sports minister, to pass on to leader Kim Jong Un, who Rodman met on previous visits in 2013 and 2014. They included two autographed basketball jerseys, soap sets, a mermaid jigsaw puzzle and a Where's Waldo? book for Kim's daughter -- and a copy of Trump's The Art of the Deal.

Rodman was on two seasons of Trump's Celebrity Apprentice reality TV show.

Rodman created a stir by arriving in the country with his small entourage all wearing clothing and hats featuring the name of a company specializing in a cyber-currency used to buy and sell marijuana.

Marijuana is illegal in North Korea.

His earlier trips generated a storm of publicity, especially when he regaled leader Kim with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" at an exhibition game he had arranged that included some other former NBA players. On the same trip, he suggested an American missionary was at fault for his own imprisonment in North Korea, remarks for which he later apologized.

He did not do any media interviews, although he did tweet a video he'd made before going to Pyongyang, presenting the trip as an effort to broker peace between the United States and North Korea.

"That's the main reason why we're going," Rodman said in the video. "We're trying to bring everything together. If not, at least we tried," he said. "We're trying to open doors between both countries."

Although U.S. citizens are not banned from visiting North Korea, the U.S. State Department strongly advises against it.

Rodman, who arrived Tuesday in Pyongyang, flew to Beijing before returning to the United States.

Information for this article was contributed by Eric Talmadge of The Associated Press; and by Anna Fifield of The Washington Post.

A Section on 06/18/2017

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