North Koreans hiding in Malaysian embassy return to Pyongyang

- Reuters pic KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 ― The Royal Malaysia Police did not have strong evidence to detain three North Koreans in connection with last month's assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Kim Jong-Nam was killed with the lethal nerve agent VX on February 13 in a Kuala Lumpur airport, in a brutally clinical operation which removed a potential claimant to the Kim throne - he was late leader Kim Jong-Il's first-born - who was an embarrassment to Pyongyang.

Malaysian police investigating what USA and South Korean officials say was an assassination carried out by North Korean agents took statements from the three North Koreans before they were allowed to leave the country.

Hours after the news emerged in South Korea, Malaysian police confirmed that a North Korean man had died at the airport, without disclosing his identity.

The three suspects are expected to arrive in Pyongyang within days.

The two men, who wore sunglasses while on the plane, are believed to be Hyon Kwang-song, second secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk-il, an employee of the country's national carrier Air Koryo, who was served an arrest warrant issued by Malaysian police.

Under the deal, about 1000 North Koreans in Malaysia will also be allowed to leave Malaysia.

They had been barred from leaving North Korea since March 7.

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 Mr Kim's family.

South Korean and US intelligence sources say North Korea masterminded the attack, which Pyongyang denies.

The two left Malaysia on Thursday and were spotted at the airport in Beijing on Friday.

To the end North Korea refused to recognise that the body was that of its supreme leader's half-brother, or to cooperate in clarifying the role of its agents in the attack.

Two women - an Indonesian and a Vietnamese national - have been charged with killing Kim Jong-Nam, but claim they believed they were involved in a prank.

Malaysian police had named eight North Koreans they wanted to question in the case, including the three given safe passage to leave.

Singapore's daily Strait Times quoted Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, as saying that the investigation into the murder of Jong-Nam would continue "to bring the perpetrators to justice".

"Legally, Kim Jong-un is next of kin", he said.

Malaysia responded with the cancellation of its visa-waiver programme with North Korea and the ban on the departure of the North Koreans in the country, exacerbating the escalation of tensions between the two. "We are still hoping the North Korea authorities will hand over to us the four North Korean suspects we have named earlier on".

"We won't deny that when the DPRK government imposed the travel ban which prevented (us) from leaving, we were very concerned especially since we had committed no wrong", Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, one of the returning diplomats, said.

  • Leroy Wright