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Friday, March 31, 2017, 10:04

Malaysia releases Kim Jong-nam's body, citizens in DPRK return

By Reuters

Malaysia releases Kim Jong-nam's body, citizens in DPRK return
Mohd Nur Azrin Md Zin, 37, (2nd, L) the Malaysian nationals who returned from Pyongyang, hugs his mother Norhayati Hamid,(2nd, R), 59, at the Bunga Raya complex at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang early March 31, 2017 ending a bitter feud between the two countries following the murder of DPRK leader's half brother Kim Jong-nam. (MOHD RASFAN / AFP)

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian authorities returned the body of the estranged half-brother of Democratic People's Republic of Korean (DPRK) leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday, in a deal that secured the release of nine Malaysian citizens held in Pyongyang after a drawn out diplomatic spat.

US and ROK intelligence sources say DPRK masterminded the deadly attack on Kim Jong-nam last month using VX nerve agent, a chemical so toxic that it is on a UN list of weapons of mass destruction.

The attack outraged Malaysia and sparked a diplomatic row with the DPRK , resulting in travel bans on both sides and a collapse in their long-standing friendly ties.

The nine Malaysians who were barred from leaving the DPRK arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport early on Friday, where they were received by the foreign minister and large group of media who had waited overnight.

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," said MohdNor Azrin Md Zain, a counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in the DPRK's capital.

During that time we were not particularly harassed by DPRK authorities. We were given the assurance that life could go onas normal," he added.

The Malaysians left Pyongyang on a Bombardier Global 6000business jet operated by the Royal Malaysian Air Force.

Malaysia releases Kim Jong-nam's body, citizens in DPRK return
Counsellor for Malaysia's embassy in Pyongyang, Mohd Nur Azrin Md Zin (C) speaks during a press conference after nine returning Malaysian nationals returned from Pyongyang at the Bunga Raya complex at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang early March 31, 2017 ending a bitter feud between the two countries following the murder of DPRK leader's half brother Kim Jong-nam. (MOHD RASFAN / AFP)

Earlier, sources told Reuters authorities were preparing to transport Kim's body on Malaysia Airlines flight MH360 to Beijing, en route to Pyongyang.

Following the completion of the autopsy on the deceased and receipt of a letter from his family requesting the remains be returned to the DPRK, the coroner has approved the release of the body," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement.

Najib is currently on an official visit in India but officials said he was directly involved in the negotiations.

Najib's statement did not mention Kim by name. Pyongyang has maintained that the body was that of Kim Chol as stated in his passport, and not Kim Jong-nam.

Kim was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb 13.

The swap agreement brings to an end nearly seven weeks of diplomatic standoff between the formerly friendly countries.

The DPRK had been demanding the handover of Kim’s body and that three remaining suspects inside its embassy be returned to Pyongyang in exchange for an end to the travel ban on Malaysians, diplomatic sources have said.

Local media reports said at least two of those suspects, including a DPRK's embassy official, had left Malaysia.

DPRK's officials were seen leaving the airport in Beijing on Friday morning, but Reuters could not verify if the officials were among them.

Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the late DPRK's leader Kim Jong-il, had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation.

The young, unpredictable Kim Jong-un had issued a "standing order" for his elder half-brother's assassination, and there was a failed attempt in 2012, according to some ROK's lawmakers.

Malaysia releases Kim Jong-nam's body, citizens in DPRK return
This file photo taken on Feb11, 2007 shows a man believed to be then-DPRK'sleader Kim Jong-il's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, walking amongst journalists upon his arrival at Beijing's international airport. (JIJI PRESS / AFP)

RELATIONS REAFFIRMED

Malaysian police say Kim was killed by two women who smeared the super toxic nerve agent VX on his face. An Indonesian womanand a Vietnamese woman have been charged.

The DPRK reacted angrily when the Malaysian authorities identified DPRK's suspects and sought to question others including a diplomat at their embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia expelled DPRK's ambassador for being "diplomatically rude", although Najib later said that ties with Pyongyang would not be severed, in a bid to calm relations.

A statement by the DPRK's government released simultaneously said both countries managed to "resolve issues arising from the death of a DPRK national" in Malaysia at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

"The importance of bilateral relations was reaffirmed. Inthis connection, both countries agreed to positively discuss there-introduction of the visa-free system and work toward sbringing the relations to a higher level," read the statement from the DPRK.

Najib said on Thursday that DPRK nationals will now be allowed to leave Malaysia.

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