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Korean kids lose out after Pyongyang's nuclear test
by Staff Writers
Yokohama, Japan (AFP) Feb 27, 2013

Rodman in N. Korea on 'basketball diplomacy' trip
New York (AFP) Feb 26, 2013 - Flamboyant retired NBA star Dennis Rodman, known as much for his piercings and tattoos as for his court skills, arrived in North Korea on Tuesday to bring it a bit of "basketball diplomacy."

The 51-year-old Hall of Famer, nicknamed "The Worm" and famed for his changing hair color, off-court antics and dating Madonna, landed in the isolated state with tensions high following the North's third nuclear test.

Video on the website of the North's state Korean Central News Agency shows Rodman arriving at Pyongyang airport in a gray t-shirt, black scarf, black baseball cap, sunglasses, large gold hoop earrings -- and a lip ring.

"It's true, I'm in North Korea," the former Chicago Bulls forward said on Twitter, saying he was "looking forward to sitting down with" leader Kim Jong-Un, who is reportedly a major basketball fan.

"They love basketball here. Honored to represent The United States of America," Rodman tweeted from his @dennisrodman account, using the hashtag #WORMinNorthKorea.

"I'm not a politician... I love everyone. Period. End of story."

Rodman's visit to North Korea with members of the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition team was organized by the New York media company VICE, which is making a documentary to air on cable television network HBO.

"Is sending the Harlem Globetrotters and Dennis Rodman to the DPRK strange? In a word, yes," VICE founder Shane Smith said in a statement, referring to North Korea by its official acronym.

"But finding common ground on the basketball court is a beautiful thing. These channels of cultural communication might appear untraditional, and perhaps they are, but we think it's important just to keep the lines open."

"And if Washington isn't going to send their Generals, then we'll send our Globetrotters," Smith said, in a joking double-entendre reference to the exhibition team's longtime foes.

The group said its trip to what it dubbed "basketball-crazed" Pyongyang will include a basketball camp for children, and "community-based games to encourage openness and better relations with the outside world."

It added that "there may be a top-level scrimmage" attended by Kim.

The group also plans to visit national sites and monuments, the Pyongyang Skate Park, and the national animation studio, SEK, the statement said.

The visit follows a trip to North Korea last month by Google chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. Schmidt said afterwards that he strongly urged the North to embrace Internet freedom.

The North has come under intense international criticism since carrying out its third underground nuclear test this month, following the launch in December of a long-range rocket.

The country has hinted it could carry out more nuclear and missile tests if the UN Security Council tightens sanctions against it.

The US State Department said it had not been informed in advance of Rodman's travel plans, and that it did not vet private travel to North Korea.

When pressed on the issue, as the department had characterized the timing of Richardson and Schmidt's trip as unhelpful, deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said: "Look, we're talking about basketball and a kids' clinic.

"It's different than some sort of dialogue directly with the regime."

Rodman won three NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1990s, and two more with the Detroit Pistons. He also played for the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers.

He was one of the top defensive players in the league for many seasons. He won an NBA record seven consecutive rebounding titles.

On Twitter, Rodman joked, "Maybe I'll run into the Gangnam Style dude while I'm here," referring to South Korean pop sensation Psy.

As the world rushed to condemn North Korea for its nuclear test, the shockwaves from international politics rippled into the daily lives of ethnic Korean children living in Japan.

Amid clamour for an effective way to punish a Pyongyang leadership that has proved immune to years of diplomatic pressure, youngsters who have never lived under the regime are bearing the brunt of Japanese anger.

The schools many of these children attend are having their funding withdrawn by Japan, leaving students and parents wondering why they are being punished for something they cannot control.

"Every time something happens in our fatherland of Korea, small Korean children get harassed verbally and physically by those who watch the news," said Kim Su-Hong, a 17-year-old pupil at a school in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

"The daily reality of discrimination that we face really hurts."

There are around 500,000 ethnic Koreans in Japan, mostly descendants of migrants and forced workers from Tokyo's sometimes brutal 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Many are effectively stateless, having forfeited their Japanese nationality with Japan's 1945 defeat. They remain without the vote in their host country.

When Korea was divided in 1953, they were forced to choose between allegiance to the US-allied Seoul or to Beijing-backed Pyongyang.

Many felt the new government in the South had abandoned Koreans in Japan and gravitated towards institutions generously funded by Kim Il-Sung's North, who lavished money on the community for the establishment and running of dozens of schools.

Since 1957, a total of 48 billion yen ($511 million) has been channeled from the communist state, supporting some 70 ethnic Korean schools throughout Japan, according to an official of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), the North's de facto embassy.

The schools proudly display portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in their classrooms, which many parents and teachers say represents their gratefulness for the leaders' support.

Until recently, these schools -- to which Japanese people are free to send their children -- received the same local government support as any other foreign school in Japan.

But patience was tested after Pyongyang fired a rocket over Okinawa last year, in what it said was a satellite launch, but the US and its allies said was a poorly-disguised ballistic missile test.

Then, after the February 12 underground nuclear explosion, the local government in Kanagawa prefecture decided it would halt its 60 million yen annual subsidy to the five schools in its area.

Governor Yuji Kuroiwa announced that after 35 years of helping to prop up the schools he could no longer justify the spending of taxpayers' money.

"North Korea fired its missile and went ahead with a nuclear test. They are such provocative actions against the wishes of the international community," he said at a press conference.

"I have no intention of continuing to defend Korean schools anymore."

The decision is a major blow to the schools, which campaigned long and hard for the right to receive the local government cash.

However, sympathy among Japanese for ethnic Koreans is in short supply.

In 2002, Pyongyang admitted what Japan had long suspected -- that North Korean agents kidnapped Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train their spies in Japanese language and culture.

Then-leader Kim Jong-Il later allowed five of them and their families to return to Japan, but many in the country believe Kim did not come clean and say other abductees remain unaccounted for.

Chang Mal-Ryo, a teacher at the Yokohama Korean school, said the schools were built by the generations who came from the Korean peninsula before it was divided along the 38th parallel and should be free from the effects of geopolitics.

She said the withdrawal of Japanese funding would do nothing to help the ethnic Koreans wean themselves off North Korean support.

"I once thought maybe the schools could become independent (from Pyongyang)

-- but not now," she said. "Not until Japan becomes completely free of discrimination against Koreans."

And beyond all the politicking, Han Bok-Myong, a mother of three students at the school, says it is the children who are suffering.

"We all know, and children all know, that abductions and nuclear tests should never occur," she said.

"But these issues should never be the reason to take away the children's right to an education."


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