Malaysia, North Korea exchange 'hostages,' resolving weeks of tensions

Three North Koreans wanted for questioning over the murder of the estranged half-brother of their country's leader were believed on their way home along with the body of Kim Jong Nam on Friday after Malaysia agreed a swap deal with the reclusive state.

Malaysia and North Korea have lifted mutual bans on nationals from each country leaving the other as part of an agreement that ends a bitter row following the assassination of the North Korean leader's exiled half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.

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.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said a coroner had approved the release of Kim Jong-nam's body.

North Korea does not even acknowledge the dead man is Kim Jong Nam.

The diplomatic tiff came about after North Korea's Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol made wild allegations against Malaysia on how it handled the case, resulting in Malaysia declaring him persona non grata.

According to Khalid, the passport found on Jong Nam's body "clearly stated North Korea".

He said that the trio had been interviewed by investigators and, "We have recorded their statements and we are satisfied with it". "Legally speaking, Kim Jong Un is Jong Nam's next-of-kin", Khalid said.

Mr Kim's body was released to North Korea and flown first to Beijing, and then on to Pyongyang.

A Royal Malaysian Air Force team of six posing as commercial crew, wearing civilian clothes instead of their uniforms, flew the three Malaysian diplomats and their six family members to Kuala Lumpur on a private jet for their safety.

"Thus, we hope North Korea will no longer raise such problems as this could jeopardise diplomatic relations between the two countries", he told Malaysian reporters in Chennai at the conclusion of his two-day visit today.

Earlier, the said van left National Forensic Medicine Institute (IPFN) in Kuala Lumpur General Hospital at 1.40pm on Thursday. An Indonesian woman and Vietnamese woman have been charged.

Asked whether he had contacted the top North Korean leadership over the crisis, Najib said he had only been in touch with the Malaysian hostages and the others involved.

Malaysia had also barred North Koreans from returning to their countries.

The coffin carrying the body of Kim Jong Nam was believed to have been on the same flight.

Anifah said their safe return reflected "diplomacy at its best" but declined to provide further details on the deal with North Korea.

Some analysts say the North will be very discreet about the handling of Kim's body to keep the truth of the incident a secret from its own citizens.

  • Leroy Wright