A high-level North Korean delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, seeking the body of leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, the victim of a nerve-agent attack that many suspect the North itself of orchestrating.
The body of Kim Jong-nam, killed on Feb. 13 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, is at the center of a heated diplomatic battle between North Korea and Malaysia. North Korea opposed Malaysian officials even conducting an autopsy, while Malaysia has resisted giving up the body without DNA samples and confirmation from next of kin.
The delegation includes former North Korean deputy ambassador to the UN Ri Tong-il, who told reporters outside the North Korean embassy that the diplomats were in Malaysia to retrieve the body and seek the release of a North Korean arrested in the case.
He said the delegation also wants “development of the friendly relationship” between North Korea and Malaysia.
Malaysia has confirmed that the victim of the attack was Kim Jong-nam. However, North Korea has identified the victim only as a North Korean national with a diplomatic passport.
The killing of Kim Jong-nam took place amid crowds of travelers at the airport and appeared to be a well-planned hit.
Malaysian authorities said North Koreans put the deadly nerve agent VX on the hands of two women who then placed the toxin on Kim Jong-nam’s face.
Kim Jong-nam died on the way to a hospital, within about 20 minutes of the attack, they said.
Malaysian Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali said in a text message to The Associated Press that the two women accused of killing Kim Jong-nam — Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong — are to be charged with murder today and face a mandatory death sentence if convicted.
Both women have been arrested and authorities must file charges by today or release them.
Both women have reportedly said they thought they were part of a prank television show when they put their hands on Kim Jong-nam.
Indonesian officials have said Aisyah told them she was paid the equivalent of US$90.
“For Aisyah, we will always provide legal assistance and advocacy to ensure her rights in accordance with applicable law,” Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs citizen protection director Lalu Muhammad Iqbal said. “We have assigned lawyers who would accompany her during the process.”
Two other suspects in the killing have been arrested: a Malaysian who is out on bail and a North Korean who remains in custody.
Asked if the North Korean will be charged, Apandi said it depends on the outcome of the investigation.
Authorities are seeking seven other North Korean suspects, four of whom fled the country the day of Kim Jong-Nam’s death and are believed to be back in North Korea.
Others sought include the second secretary of North Korea’s embassy and an employee of North Korea’s state-owned airline, Air Koryo.
Malaysia has not directly accused North Korea of having masterminded the killing, but South Korea has. It has not provided evidence, but suspicions were heightened over the weekend when Malaysia announced that VX killed Kim Jong-nam. Producing the deadly toxin requires a highly sophisticated lab and VX is one of many chemical weapons North Korea is believed to possess.
South Korean lawmakers on Monday said that the country’s National Intelligence Service told them that four of the North Koreans identified as suspects are from the North Korean Ministry of State Security.
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