Malaysia, North Korea reach agreement in Kim’s killing row
Malaysia and North Korea have lifted mutual bans on nationals from each country leaving the other as part of an agreement that ends a bitter row following the assassination of the North Korean leader’s exiled half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.
The nine Malaysians who had been barred from leaving North Korea in the wake of the dispute returned home after Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur reached an agreement over transferring the body of the North Korean leader’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam. Malaysia, too, started allowing North Korean nationals to leave.
In a statement on Thursday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that after “very sensitive” negotiations, Malaysia agreed to release Kim’s body, which Kuala Lumpur was refusing to hand over to North Korean officials because they had not been cooperative in the Malaysian investigation of Kim’s killing.
No next-of-kin had stepped forward to claim the body either.
“Following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains be returned to North Korea, the coroner has approved the release of the body,” Najib said.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency also confirmed the agreement, saying the two sides had pledged to “guarantee the safety and security” of each other’s citizens.
Following the development, Malaysia put Kim’s body on a plane to be delivered to Pyongyang. Earlier, a van was seen leaving the morgue where his body was being held.
Later on Friday, China confirmed that the body had been returned to North Korea. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also said that “relevant” North Korean citizens had traveled back to their home country.
The Malaysians stuck in North Korea — three embassy workers and six family members including four children — were flown home in a government plane and greeted by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman at the airport.
The exchange effectively ended a seven-week diplomatic row between the two countries that erupted with Kim’s murder at Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport. He was killed with a banned nerve agent amid crowds of travelers at a public terminal of the airport on February 13.
Malaysia, outraged by the brazen act of murder, sought several North Korean nationals, including a diplomat, for questioning. It also said it would conduct an autopsy on the body to determine the cause of the death.
North Korean officials quickly opposed any autopsy, refused to allow access to the North Koreans sought by Malaysia, and demanded that the body be promptly handed over to them.
The dispute lingered as the two sides refused to meet each other’s demands, and a ban was subsequently put in place on nationals from leaving.
Malaysian police arrested the two women who carried out the assassination by rubbing the nerve agent on Kim’s face, which led to his death only after 20 minutes.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, claimed they were fooled into believing they were taking part in a television prank show. They face the death penalty if convicted of the murder at court.
It was not clear what would happen to the two under the deal between Malaysia and North Korea.
North Korea has denied any role in the killing. But South Korean intelligence sources have been putting the blame on Pyongyang.
Kim was planning to travel to the autonomous Chinese region of Macau when he was killed.
His death is considered as the most high-profile death during the reign of his younger brother, Kim Jong-un, since the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the brothers’ once powerful uncle, in December 2013.