Tuesday 21 November 2017

Dispute over Kim Jong Nam's body as assassination probe continues

A man believed to be Kim Jong Nam is pictured in February 2007 at Beijing airport, as Malaysia said it will carry out a second post-mortem (Kyodo News via AP, File)
A man believed to be Kim Jong Nam is pictured in February 2007 at Beijing airport, as Malaysia said it will carry out a second post-mortem (Kyodo News via AP, File)

A dispute over custody of the body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother is raging between Malaysia and Pyongyang as inquiries continue into his apparent assassination.

Kim Jong Nam, who was 45 or 46 and had lived in exile for years, suddenly fell ill at Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday as he waited for a flight home to Macau.

Dizzy and in pain, he told medical workers at the airport he had been sprayed with a chemical, and he died while being taken to hospital.

Malaysian officials performed a post-mortem examination on Wednesday over the strong objections of North Korea, which asserted sovereignty over the body of its citizen and said it should have a say in what happens next.

Medical workers began a second examination on Friday night because results of the first one were inconclusive.

Senior Malaysian police official Abdul Samah Mat denied the second post-mortem test had taken place, however. "No such thing as a second post-mortem," he said when asked, adding that the results of the first test have not yet been released.

Meanwhile, North Korea vowed to reject the results of any post-mortem. Pyongyang's ambassador said Malaysian officials may be "trying to conceal something" and "colluding with hostile forces".

The intrigue over the case raises all sorts of questions about the mysterious death of Kim Jong Nam, but a lack of closure and a lingering sense of the unknown are not unusual when it comes to North Korea.

While South Korea has blamed North Korea for several notable assassinations or attempted killings in past decades, the North often denies involvement or simply does not comment.

The death of Kim Jong Nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korea's powerful and mercurial ruler Kim Jong Un, has unleashed much speculation and unconfirmed reports from the duelling nations.

Malaysia has made four arrests so far over the death, the latest involving a North Korean man carrying ID that identified him as 46-year-old Ri Jong Chol.

Authorities are still trying to piece together details of the case.

South Korea has accused its enemies in North Korea of dispatching a hit squad to kill Kim Jong Nam at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, saying two female assassins poisoned him and then fled in a taxi.

On Friday, Indonesia's police chief said an Indonesian woman arrested for suspected involvement in the killing was duped into thinking she was taking part in a comedy show prank.

Tito Karnavian told reporters in Indonesia's Aceh province that Siti Aisyah, 25, was paid to be involved in a Just For Laughs-style hidden camera show stunt. He said she and another woman took part in a skit which involved convincing men to close their eyes and then spraying them with water.

"Such an action was done three or four times and they were given a few dollars for it, and with the last target, Kim Jong Nam, allegedly there were dangerous materials in the sprayer," Mr Karnavian said.

"She was not aware that it was an assassination attempt by alleged foreign agents."

Malaysian police are questioning four suspects - Aisyah, another woman who carried a Vietnamese passport, a man they said is Aisyah's boyfriend, and the North Korean man.

North Korea broke its silence on the case Friday night. Speaking to reporters gathered outside the morgue in Kuala Lumpur, North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol said Malaysia conducted the post-mortem examination on Kim Jong Nam "unilaterally and excluding our attendance".

"We will categorically reject the result of the post-mortem," Mr Kang said, adding that the move disregarded "elementary international laws and consular laws".

Mr Kang said the fact that Malaysia has yet to hand over the body "strongly suggests that the Malaysian side is trying to conceal something which needs more time and deceive us, and that they are colluding with the hostile forces towards us who are desperate to harm us".

Malaysia is one of just a handful of countries to have full diplomatic ties with North Korea, with each country having an embassy in the other's capital.

Malaysia has also been a key place for quiet, semi-official diplomatic talks between North Korea and the United States.

The country said it wants DNA samples from Kim Jong Nam's family as part of the post-mortem procedure and that officials are not yet willing to hand the body over to the North Koreans.

Although Kim Jong Nam is believed to have two sons and a daughter with two women living in Beijing and Macau, police in Malaysia say no-one has come forward to claim the body or provide DNA samples.

Abdul Samah Mat, a senior Malaysian police official, said: "If there is no claim by next-of-kin and upon exhausting all avenues (to obtain DNA), we will finally then hand over the body to the (North Korean) embassy."

Kim Jong Nam was estranged from his younger half-brother, Kim Jong Un. He reportedly fell out of favour with their father, the late Kim Jong Il, in 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Press Association

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