After weeks of tension between normally friendly nations Malaysia and North Korea following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the leader of North Korea’s half-brother, at the Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysian authorities released the body, permitting it to be flown back to Pyongyang on Thursday. The release of the body secured the release of Malaysian citizens, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had not been permitted to leave North Korea for weeks as a result of disputes between Malaysian law enforcement and the North Korean government.
Both U.S. and South Korean intelligence sources have backed the Malaysian authorities’ assessment of Kim Jong-nam’s death, which was perpetrated by two women—one Vietnamese and the other Indonesian. According to the evidence gathered, it appears the murder was directed and masterminded by North Korean officials, using a difficult-to-come-by chemical agent known as VX to kill the man who was once expected to take the reins of the North Korean nation. Allegations that Kim Jong-un himself may have given the order furthered the rift between the two Asian nations, culminating in a diplomatic spat that saw hundreds of Malaysians trapped within North Korean borders.
The attack and ensuing political posturing by North Korea outraged Malaysian officials. Travel bans were enacted by both nations, and North Korea continued to deny that the dead man was Kim Jong-nam at all.
The Malaysian prime minister and nine other officials boarded a Royal Malaysian Air Force jet and departed from Pyongyang once it was confirmed that the body was en route. They are expected to arrive at the very airport in which Kim Jong-nam was assassinated by 5:00 a.m. local time on Friday, March 31st.
“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,” Prime Minister Najib said in a statement. It’s worth noting that his statement did not include the name of Kim Jong-nam, nor his half-brother and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, which may indicate an effort toward normalizing relations with the reclusive state.
It is not yet clear if the three remaining North Korean suspects believed to have ties to the assassination will be permitted to leave the safety of the embassy in which they’ve been hiding since the investigation began. Malaysia repeatedly made efforts to interrogate a number of North Koreans implicated in the investigation, but were barred from doing so by the North Korean government.
Prior to his death, Kim Jong-nam had made public statements critical of dynastic control of North Korea, even going so far as to state that his brother’s policies could be harming the economic development of the state. Before an embarrassing run-in with Japanese authorities, Kim Jong-nam, the supreme leader’s older brother, was expected to take control of the nation following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. As a result, some within the nation are believed to still harbor a level of respect for the now-deceased man. These two elements alone prompted a failed assassination attempt in 2012, according to some South Korean officials. It is believed a “standing order” was issued by Kim Jong-un to kill his brother when possible.
Earlier this week, Malaysian authorities stopped and searched a North Korean vessel carrying a load of coal on suspicion of violating U.N. sanctions, a move that was likely a bit of international theater intended to add pressure to North Korea, which is running out of nations willing to accept their exports.
“The importance of bilateral relations was reaffirmed. In this connection, both countries agreed to positively discuss the re-introduction of the visa-free system and work toward bringing the relations to a higher level,” read a statement from North Korea.
Image courtesy of Al Jazeera