Morgue reopens as Kim's body reportedly leaves Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia The body of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Koreas leader, was released to the North on Thursday, more than a month after his murder at Kuala Lumpurs airport unleashed a fierce diplomatic battle between the two countries.

Shortly after the van left the hospital, police also departed and the morgue was reopened to the public.

Declining to reveal what the demands were, Najib said Malaysia held firm to its stand that the two North Korean suspects holed up in the embassy - second secretary Hyon Kwang-song and Air Koryo personnel Kim Uk-il - must be questioned and investigated by police before they could be released.

Malaysian prosecutors have charged two women - an Indonesian and a Vietnamese - with killing Kim Jong Nam, but South Korean and USA officials had regarded them as pawns in an operation carried out by North Korean agents. North Korea - widely suspected to be behind the attack - has rejected the autopsy findings.

The killing triggered a bitter row between Malaysia and North Korea, which have expelled each other's ambassadors and barred their citizens from leaving.

Pyongyang had denounced Malaysia's investigation as a smear attempt.

Malaysia yesterday agreed to hand over the remains of Kim Jong-Nam and the three suspects to Pyongyang in exchange for nine Malaysians that were held there.

Fearful of his half-brother's regime, he spent the last few years living in exile in the Chinese territory of Macau, and his family has gone into hiding since the murder.

"I think this relationship is going to go into cold storage for a very long time", said former Malaysian diplomat Dennis Ignatius. They were believed to be hiding at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur after Malaysian police named them as the suspects. They took off from Pyongyang today at 7.45 p.m. Malaysia said it held on to the body in order to formally identify the corpse, which it now says it has done, using DNA from Kim's son.

Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of the North's young, unpredictable leader Kim Jong Un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur's airport on February 13 in a weird assassination using VX nerve agent, a chemical so lethal the United Nations has listed it as a weapon of mass destruction.

The swap agreement brings to an end a diplomatic standoff that has lasted almost seven weeks.

Government officials couldn't immediately be reached for further details.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the remains of a North Korean citizen killed in Malaysia were returned to the North via Beijing along with "relevant" North Korean citizens. Malaysia responded in kind, with an exit ban of its own targeting North Koreans. Without specifying exactly who sent the letter, Khalid said, "Legally speaking, Kim Jong Un is the next of kin". While he is believed to have kept out of politics, he has given brief interviews criticizing dynastic succession in North Korea.

The two women accused of wiping Kim's face with the poison have been charged with murder.

Although that visa arrangement was scrapped after the killing, it meant that Malaysia had been a quiet destination for North Koreans looking for jobs, schools and business deals.

However, the move is unlikely to result in any arrests as North Korea isn't a member of Interpol.

  • Salvatore Jensen