Kim Jong-nam’s Body Returned to North Korea Following Exchange Deal
Kim Jong-nam’s body has arrived in North Korea, Chinese officials have confirmed.
Pyongyang had requested the body of Kin Jong-un’s half-brother, but has not confirmed its identity.
The body was released as part of a deal under which nine Malaysians previously prevented from leaving North Korea have now arrived home.
Malaysia and North Korea had been locked in a diplomatic row in the wake of Kim Jong-nam’s murder in Kuala Lumpur last month.
Both countries had banned each other’s citizens from leaving.
“The body of the DPRK citizen who died in Malaysia and relevant DPRK citizens have returned to the DPRK today via Beijing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing, using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korea is widely suspected of having orchestrated the killing of Kim Jong-nam with VX nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur’s airport.
Three North Koreans who had been wanted for questioning have now been allowed to leave Malaysia, Malaysia’s chief of police said.
“We have obtained whatever we wanted from them” and are “satisfied” with the statements, Khalid Abu Bakar said.
In the wake of Kim Jong-nam’s killing on February 13, Pyongyang reacted angrily when Malaysia refused to hand over the body immediately, without an autopsy.
Malaysian authorities said they had the right to conduct an autopsy as he had been killed on Malaysian soil, and that they would only release the body to Kim Jong-nam’s family.
On March 30, Malysian PM Najib Razak said a formal request had been received from the family, but gave no further details.
A day later, national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said “legally speaking, Kim Jong-un is the next-of-kin” but declined to say who the request had come from.
King Jong-nam’s own family previously lived in Macau but they are now thought to be in hiding.
His son Kim Han-sol appeared in a video earlier this month confirming he was with his mother and sister at an unspecified location.
Although Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son of the former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un was passed over for the leadership and was living outside North Korea at the time of his father’s death.
Malaysia’s refusal to hand over Kim Jong-nam’s body prompted a war of words. North Korea’s ambassador Kang Chol accused Malaysia of colluding with “hostile forces”, allegations which Kuala Lumpur dubbed as “delusions, lies and half-truths”.
Kang Chol was expelled and the Malaysian ambassador to North Korea was also recalled.
North Korea then said it would ban all Malaysians in the country from leaving until the “situation was resolved”, which Malaysia’s PM Najib Razak called an “abhorrent act” that effectively held his citizens hostage.
Kuala Lumpur enacted a tit-for-tat exit ban on North Koreans.
Under the deal, the nine Malaysian nationals returned to Kuala Lumpur on March 31, where they were met by relatives.
They include Malaysia’s counselor to North Korea, Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, embassy staff, and their families.
The exact circumstances of how the deal was struck remain unclear. PM Najib Razak described the negotiations as “challenging”.
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman hailed the exchange as a success of diplomacy and “level-headedness”.
Reuters reported that TV footage showed two North Koreans on the flight to Beijing with the body: Hyon Kwang-song, the second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk-il, a North Korean state airline employee.
The third was named Ri Ji-u, who had been holed up with them in the North Korean Embassy, Reuters quoted the chief of police as saying.