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December 20th, 2013
11:32 AM ET

Expert: North Korea purge isn't over

(CNN) - Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea on Thursday, the country's state-run media reported.

The State Department is not involved in the trip, and Rodman is not officially representing the U.S.

"I'm not of the view that this is a particularly positive development," said Christopher Hill, dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at Denver University.

Hill said there are usually two sides to such widely-reported trips to North Korea. On the one hand it helps the regime suggest that everything is normal. On the other, it might be an opportunity to send a clear message to the Hermit Kingdom – on human rights violations, for example, or to advocate for the release of imprisoned American citizen Kenneth Bae.

"I'm not sure Dennis Rodman is the kind of person who can make that clearer message to the regime there," said Hill, who led the U.S. delegation during the six-party talks with North Korea from 2005-2009.

Former Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who has traveled to North Korea several times, said Rodman might share useful information gleaned while in North Korea with government officials when he returns to the U.S.

Like information on recent government purges. Kim Jong Un executed his uncle Jang Song Thaek earlier this month. Kim's aunt – whose husband was executed – was missing from a ceremony marking the two-year anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death Tuesday. But Hill says she has been ill for months, even years, so it's not unusual for her to miss events.

"I don't think the purge will extend to her. But I do emphasize I don't think this purge is over," said Hill. "Usually when you go after the top person like Jang Song Thaek, it suggests it's going to go further.

"I think a lot of North Kroeans are very nervous right now."

Unfortunately, Rodman is not briefed by the State Department after his visits, or if he is, it is very cursory, says Hill.

"There are people who have spent a lifetime trying to figure out what's going on in North Korea, and I'm not sure Dennis Rodman is really quite up to that challenge at this time," said Hill.

Leader Kim Jong Un allowing Rodman's visit to continue despite the recent government purges should not be interpreted as a diplomatic signal, says Hill.

"It's maybe a sign to his own people that the show goes on, that the regime is fine, they've got these informal contacts with Americans, and things are fine, go back to work everybody," said Hill.

"Clearly there's a commercial purpose to Rodman's visit, and I think that very much stands," said Hill.

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