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Rodman serenades North Korean leader for birthday; family of US captive 'outraged'

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Courtesy NBC News

By Alastair Jamieson and Erin McClam, NBC News

The sister of an American held captive in North Korea for more than a year said Wednesday she is outraged that Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star who has cozied up to North Korea's young dictator, is "playing games with my brother's life."

Rodman on Wednesday led a crowd at a North Korean auditorium in serenading the leader, Kim Jong Un, with "Happy Birthday" at an exhibition game between former NBA players and a North Korean team.

A day earlier, in a bizarre, expletive-littered and sometimes incoherent interview with CNN, Rodman came close to suggesting that the American, Kenneth Bae, was responsible for his captivity.

"My family and I are outraged," Bae's sister Terri Chung said in a statement. "He is playing games with my brother's life. There is no diplomacy, only games, and at my brother's expense."

She said that Rodman was in a position to advocate for Bae but instead "has decided to hurl outrageous accusations at my brother, insinuating that Kenneth has done something sinister."

Bae, 45, was leading a tour group in North Korea, the reclusive and repressive communist country, when he was detained. He was accused and convicted of trying to overthrow the government and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

His mother visited him in October and said that Bae was "alone and ailing."

Rodman told CNN on Tuesday that the visit to North Korea, his fourth, was a "great idea for the world" and might "open the door." But he bristled when he was pressed on whether he would try to use the trip to help Bae.

"If you understand what Kenneth Bae did?" Rodman angrily demanded of the interview, Chris Cuomo. "Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?"

White House press secretary Jay Carney, asked Tuesday about the Rodman interview, told reporters: "I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response." He emphasized that the trip was private travel, not endorsed by the U.S. government.

Kim was not shown in the "Happy Birthday" video. Rodman sang, and a crowd of North Koreans was shown smiling and clapping. The North Korean and American players, standing behind Rodman, clapped along, too. Rodman bowed at the end.

Kim is believed to be turning 31, but neither that nor when his birthday falls is certain. He took over after his father, Kim Jong Il, known as Dear Leader, died in 2011.

In November, Kim's own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was executed after he was accused of trying to seize power and drive the North Korean economy into catastrophe.

The North Korean team won the exhibition game against the former NBA players. Foreign tourists attended but were not allowed to take pictures. APTN, a video service of The Associated Press, said that it was not allowed to film Kim.

NBC News' Katie Distler contributed to this report.

Read on NBC News

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