Bangkok: The body of Kim Jong-nam has been released to North Korea as part of a complex deal with Malaysia, brokered to end a bitter row between the two nations which began with Mr Kim’s brazen nerve agent assassination.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the deal, which included nine Malaysians being allowed to fly out of the North Korean capital Pyongyang to return to Malaysia. The nine people, three embassy workers and six family members, had already boarded a plane in Pyongyang when Mr Najib made the announcement on Thursday night.
They flew home in a government jet and greeted by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman at the airport early on Friday, Reuters reported.
Mr Anifah said their safe return reflected “diplomacy at its best”.
Under the deal, about 1000 North Koreans in Malaysia will also be allowed to leave Malaysia. Most of them are low-paid labourers.
In a rarely seen diplomatic meltdown following the murder of Mr Kim at Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13, North Korea barred Malaysians from leaving the country, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Malaysia.
In a statement, Mr Najib made no mention of the fate of three North Korean suspects in the assassination, at least two of whom are believed to be holed in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, including a man listed as a diplomat.
But Mr Najib said his government believes strongly in the principles of justice and sovereignty.
“Our police investigation into this serious crime on Malaysian soil will continue and I have instructed for all possible measures to be taken to bring those responsible to justice,” he said.
A group of North Korean officials and Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry negotiated the deal over several days in Kuala Lumpur as speculation grew that Malaysia would hand over the body to Mr Kim’s next-of-kin in China.
Mr Kim was living in Macau with his second wife and two children.
But the deal announced by Mr Najib indicates that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, the estranged younger half-brother of Mr Kim, insisted the body be returned to North Korea, despite North Korean officials claiming the dead man was not Mr Kim.
“Following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains be returned to North Korea, the coroner has approved the release of the body,” Mr Najib said.
The body was believed to have been put aboard a Malaysia Airlines flight to Beijing, en-route to Pyongyang on Thursday night.
Malaysian police have identified eight North Koreans as suspects in the killing, which South Korea says was orchestrated by the north’s spy agency. Four of the suspects left Kuala Lumpur immediately after the attack.
One North Korean man has been deported and police have named three other suspects. Two women smeared deadly VX nerve agent on Mr Kim’s face as he was about to board a flight to Macau.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, claim they were duped into believing they were taking part in a television prank show.
They have been charged with murder and face execution if found guilty.