In a growing row over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, North Korea and Malaysia have banned each other’s citizens from leaving their countries.
The extraordinary actions come amid North Korean fury at Malaysia’s ongoing investigation into Kim Jong-nam’s death at a Kuala Lumpur airport. He was killed with potent VX nerve agent.
Malaysia has not directly blamed North Korea for the killing of the North Korean leader’s half-brother, but there is widespread suspicion Pyongyang was responsible.
North Korea has fiercely denied any accusations of culpability and the row over the assassination – and who has the right to claim Kim Jong-nam’s body – has rapidly escalated over the past two weeks.
Both Malaysia and North Korea have already expelled each other’s ambassadors.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said on March 7 that “all Malaysian nationals in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will be temporarily prohibited from leaving the country until the incident that happened in Malaysia is properly solved”.
It said this was to ensure the safety of it citizens and diplomats in Malaysia.
Malaysians in North Korea country would be able to carry on their lives as normal, it added.
Image source Getty Images
Furiously, Malaysian PM Najib Razak said it was an “abhorrent act” which was “in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms”.
Malaysians were effectively being held hostage in North Korea, the prime minister said in a statement.
He said: “Protecting our citizens is my first priority, and we will not hesitate to take all measures necessary when they are threatened.”
Initially, Deputy PM and Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said that in response, North Korean embassy staff and officials would not be allowed to leave.
“We need to take similar steps as they have manipulated the murder,” he was quoted as saying.
Malaysian officials have said there are believed to be 11 Malaysian citizens currently in North Korea, mostly diplomats. They also estimate there are about 1,000 North Koreans currently in Malaysia.
Until last week, North Koreans did not need a visa to enter Malaysia.
Such actions are highly unusual. Under Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.
Malaysia has signed that declaration, but North Korea has not.
The ban also breaks the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which both countries have ratified.
A post-mortem examination on Kim Jong-nam’s body found he was killed by a dose of VX nerve agent, a substance classified as a weapon of mass destruction, as he waited to board a flight to Macau on February 13.
So far, only two people – an Indonesian woman and a Vietnamese woman – have been charged with murder. They have said they thought they were taking part in a TV prank.
A detained North Korean was released last week because of lack of evidence, but Malaysia is seeking a number of other North Koreans, including a diplomat.
On March 7, Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said he believed two of those suspects were hiding inside the North Korean embassy compound in Kuala Lumpur.
“We will wait and if it takes five years we will wait outside, definitely somebody will come out,” he told reporters.
Armed police have been deployed outside the North Korean embassy, cordoning it off, Malaysian media reported.
The two women implicated in the killing of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged brother of North Korea’s leader, are Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah.
Little is known about Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah except that they had left their homes in different parts of Asia and were trying to make a living in Malaysia.
According to Malaysian police officials, Doan Thi Huong, a 28-year-old from Vietnam, is an “entertainment outlet employee” while Siti Aisyah, a 25-year-old from Indonesia, was working in a hotel massage parlor.
Doan Thi Huong’s Facebook page, in which she posted under the name Ruby Ruby, showed her posing in a number of selfies and glamour shots. There are rumors she once auditioned for Vietnam’s version of Pop Idol.
Image source Reuters
Her family said she left her home village in north Vietnam at 17 to study in the capital Hanoi, and had rarely returned home since. They said they were surprised to learn she was in Malaysia.
Her stepmother said that the family was fed up with all the attention they had received, but were grateful for the support of their neighbors.
Siti Aisyah was arrested for the killing along with her 26-year-old Malaysian boyfriend, who was later released on bail.
She told the Indonesian embassy officials that she thought she was taking part in a reality TV show, and had been paid 400 Malaysian ringgit ($90) to smear what she thought was baby oil on to Kim Jong-nam’s face.
Siti Aisyah was out partying with her friends the night before the killing. A friend, who spoke anonymously, said they were celebrating her birthday, which had been the day before. Film footage purportedly from the evening shows her talking with friends about becoming an internet star.
Other suspects in Kim Jong-nam’s assassination are:
Ri Jong-chol, 47, is a North Korean who has lived in Malaysia for the last three years. He is in Malaysian detention.
The Malaysian boyfriend of Siti Aisyah, Muhammad Farid Jalaluddin, was arrested but police said he would be released on bail.
Hyon Kwang Song, 44, second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur is being sought by police. He is believed to be in the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Kim Uk-il, 37, is a staff member of North Korea’s state airline Air Koryo, and is also believed to still be in Malaysia.
Ri Ju-u, 30, a North Korean also known as “James”, has been identified by the women as the man who recruited them.
Ri Ji-hyon, 33, a North Korean, is believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
Hong Song-hac, 34, a North Korean, is believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
O Jong-gil, 55, a North Korean, is believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
Ri Jae-nam, 57, a North Korean, is believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian woman who was arrested for the murder of Kim Jong-nam, has said she was given 400 Malaysian ringgits ($90) to carry out a prank.
Indonesian embassy officials met the 25-year-old on February 25 in Kuala Lumpur.
Siti Aisyah said she was given the cash to smear Kim Jong-nam’s face with “baby oil” as part of a reality show joke.
Tests show the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was killed with the highly toxic nerve agent VX.
VX is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
Kim Jong-nam died on February 13 after two women accosted him briefly in a check-in hall at Kuala Lumpur international airport.
Malaysian police have said that a sweep of the airport for toxic chemicals by a forensic team, the fire department and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board will take place from 01:00 on February 26.
There is widespread suspicion that North Korea was behind the attack, which it strongly denies.
A Vietnamese woman and a North Korean man have also been arrested in connection with the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. At least seven other suspects are wanted by police.
After a 30-minute meeting with Siti Aisyah on February 25, Indonesian Deputy Ambassador Andreano Erwin said: “She only said in general that somebody asked her to do this activity. She only said in general she met with some people who looked Japanese or Korean.
“According to her, that person gave her 400 ringgits to do this activity… She only said she was given a kind of oil, like baby oil.”
The officials said they did not see any physical signs that the suspect had been affected by the chemical.
Vietnamese officials also met their arrested national, Doan Thi Huong, 28, but made no comment.
Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said on February 24 that the presence of the nerve agent had been detected in swabs taken from Kim Jong-nam’s eyes and face.
Kim Jong-nam had sought medical help at the airport, saying someone had splashed or sprayed him with liquid. He then had a seizure and died on the way to hospital.
North Korea has reacted for the first time to Kim Jong-nam’s assassination saying that Malaysia is responsible for the death of one of its citizens and is attempting to politicize the return of his body.
It does not name Kim Jong-nam, but the KCNA report appears to be state media’s first reference to the death of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother.
Kim Jong-un died after being poisoned at Kuala Lumpur airport and his body remains in a hospital mortuary.
Several North Koreans are wanted in connection with his death.
They include a senior official at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur as well as an employee of the state airline, Air Koryo.
Four other North Koreans named earlier in the case are thought to have left Malaysia already, while another North Korean is in detention.
Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said on February 23 that he had asked international police agency Interpol to issue an alert for the four.
On February 22, Malaysian police confirmed that Kim Jong-nam died after two women – also in detention – wiped a toxin on his face while he was waiting for a flight to Macau.
It said the attack was “planned” and that the women had been well trained. They have not directly blamed the North Korean state, but said North Koreans were clearly behind it.
Kim Jong-nam was once seen as a possible successor to his father, Kim Jong-il, but was bypassed in favor of his younger half brother, Kim Jong-un, and spent many years living abroad.
He had been travelling on a passport under the name Kim Chol.
Malaysia says it believes the man was indeed Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong-un, though it is seeking family DNA samples for official confirmation, a request North Korea called “absurd”.
KCNA said only that “a citizen of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]” who was traveling on a diplomatic passport had died due to “a heart stroke”.
It said reports of a poisoning were false and Malaysia was part of an “anti-DPRK conspiratorial racket launched by the South Korean authorities”.
Conducting a post-mortem on the holder of a diplomatic passport without state permission was “a wanton human rights abuse and an act contrary to human ethics and morality”, it said.
“The biggest responsibility for his death rests with the government of Malaysia,” said the KCNA report, and the refusal to hand the body back to North Korean officials “proves that the Malaysian side is going to politicize the transfer of the body in utter disregard of international law and morality and thus attain a sinister purpose”.
Malaysian police have arrested a North Korean national over the killing of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam.
The man has been identified as 46-year-old Ri Jong-chol.
An Indonesian woman, a Malaysian man and a woman with a Vietnamese passport were detained earlier.
Malaysian police believe poison was sprayed into Kim Jong-nam’s face as he waited to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Macau.
Malaysian Deputy PM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi formally confirmed on February 16 that the dead man, who was travelling under the name Kim Chol, was Kim Jong-nam.
Police say Ri Jong-chol was detained on February 17 in Selangor, near Kuala Lumpur. No further details were given.
One of the detained women, an Indonesian national named as Siti Aisyah, is said to have told Malaysian police she had been paid to perform what she thought was a prank.
A Malaysian man thought to be her boyfriend was detained along with her.
The woman carrying a Vietnamese passport has been identified as Doan Thi Huong.
Kim Jong-nam is believed to have been attacked in the airport departure hall on February 13 by two women, using some form of chemical.
A grainy image taken from security camera footage, which has been broadcast in South Korea and Malaysia, shows a woman wearing a white T-shirt with the letters “LOL” written on the front.
It is not clear whether either of the detained women is the woman in the footage, and police say they are still looking for “a few” other suspects.
Police have now finished Kim Jong-nam’s post-mortem examination, though the results have not yet been made public.
North Korea has said it will reject the result of the autopsy.
It has demanded that Malaysia immediately release the body. Malaysia is refusing to do so until it receives a DNA sample from Kim Jong-nam’s next-of-kin.
South Korea’s intelligence agency has accused North Korea of assassinating Kim Jong-nam, saying Pyongyang had wanted to kill him for years but that he was being protected by China.
Despite widespread speculation that North Korea was behind the killing, there has been no proof. Pyongyang has made no public comments on the issue.
Kim Jong-nam was largely estranged from his family, after being passed over for the North Korean leadership in favor of his youngest half-brother. He spent most of his time overseas in Macau, mainland China and Singapore.