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North Korea

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South Korean Intel officials are investigating whether Lim Ji-hyun, a prominent defector from North Korea, has been kidnapped back to Pyongyang.

Lim Ji-hyun fled to South Korea in 2014, where she became a popular TV personality.

However, a woman resembling her appeared in a propaganda video in Pyongyang on July 16 – prompting speculation she may have been abducted.

In the video, Lim Ji-hyun says she was lured away and forced to slander North Korea.

The woman says that she voluntarily returned across the border.

Lim Ji-hyun had been a popular face on South Korean television, appearing on both talk shows and reality TV programs.

The South Korean authorities have not yet confirmed if the woman in the propaganda video is Lim Ji-hyun. However, they believe Lim Ji-hyun is back in North Korea.

The propaganda video was released on Youtube by the North Korean Uriminzokkiri website on July 16.

In the video, the woman introduces herself by another name, Jeon Hye-Sung.


The woman is shown in conversation with an interviewer and Kim Man-bok, another former defector who also returned to North Korea.

She says she was lured to South Korea by the “fantasy” that she could “eat well and make lots of money” and claims that she was forced into slandering her own country.

The woman describes how in South Korea everything was judged by money, how she was struggling to make ends meet and was asked to discredit North Korea on several TV shows.

She said she was now living back with her parents again after returning to North Korea last month.

“I felt really lonely in South Korea and I missed my parents,” she said in the video.

JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reports that the defector had thanked her fans as recently as April for a birthday party, calling it “possibly the happiest birthday of my life”.

Her fan club announced on July 16 it would shut.

The South Korean intelligence officials are investigating how Lim Ji-hyun might have re-entered North Korea.

Some North Korean defectors have speculated that Lim Ji-hyun may have been abducted on the China-North Korean border while attempting to smuggle out family members, the Korea Times reports.

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of North Koreans have defected from the authoritarian state into South Korea.

According to the unification ministry in Seoul, since 2012 only 25 returned.

Some North Korean defectors have described difficulties in adapting to life in South Korea – many miss their families in the North, or struggle to find suitable jobs.

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North Korea has announced it successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

It is the first time North Korea has claimed to have successfully tested a long-range “intercontinental” missile which could potentially have the range to reach the US mainland.

Earlier the US said a missile landed in the Sea of Japan but that it did not pose a threat to North America.

North Korea has increased the frequency of its missile tests, raising tensions.

An announcement on North Korea state TV said it had launched a Hwasong-14 missile, overseen by their leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea Tests New Rocket Engine

It said the projectile reached an altitude of 1,731 miles and flew 583 miles before hitting a target in the sea.

Earlier the US Pacific Command said it was an intermediate range missile.

Image source Wikipedia

While Pyongyang has appeared to have made progress, experts believe North Korea does not have the capability to accurately target a place with an intercontinental ballistic missile, or miniaturize a nuclear warhead that can fit on to such a missile.

North Korea Accuses US of Mugging Its Diplomats at JFK Airport

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has called on the UN Security Council to take steps against North Korea over its latest missile test.

Moon Jae-in has ordered security and diplomatic officials to seek “Security Council measures in close co-operation with the country’s allies, including the United States,” his chief press secretary Yoon Young-chan told reporters.

North Korea Fires Several Anti-Ship Missiles Off Its East Coast

Earlier Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “North Korea’s repeated provocations like this are absolutely unacceptable.”

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe said his country would “unite strongly” with the US and South Korea to put pressure on Pyongyang.

President Donald Trump also responded swiftly on July 4 to the missile launch.

On his Twitter account, Donald Trump made apparent reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying: “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”

“Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

President Trump has repeatedly called on China, Pyongyang’s closest ally, to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs.

China has not fully responded to the latest test.

North Korea has rejected South Korea’s offer to form a unified team for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in backed proposals for a collaboration after it was suggested by sports minister Do Jong-hwan.

However, North Korean International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Chang Un has dismissed the idea – saying there was not time to negotiate a deal.

The PyeonChang Games, in South Korea, will take place from February 9 to 25.

North Korea and OSuth Korea have played in the same team before – at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships.

Image source YouTube

However, Chang Un told local media: “It took us 22 rounds of talks to set up that joint [table tennis] team… it took us five months.

“That’s the reality we face.”

Winter Games 2018: South Korea Olympic Chair Cho Yang-ho Resigns

South Korea’s sports minister had suggested a joint ice hockey team – even going as far as to suggest they might allow the north to host skiing events – to help make the 2018 games a “peace Olympics”.

President Moon Jae-in, who advocates greater dialogue with South Korea’s neighbors, then put forward the idea of a wider unified Olympic squad.

How Chang Un said the games should not be used for political purposes, adding: “As an expert of the Olympics, it is a little late to be talking about co-hosting. It’s easy to talk about co-hosting, but it is never easy to solve practical problems for that. It’s the same for forming a joint team for ice hockey.”

South Korean officials have said they continue to be open to the idea.

The two sides remain technically at war as the fighting at the end of the Korean War in 1953 did not end with a peace treaty. Tensions have risen recently following repeated missiles tests carried out by Pyongyang.

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Otto Warmbier’s family has declined a post-mortem examination, according to the Hamilton County coroner.

The 22-year-old student died on June 19, shortly after being freed from North Korea.

Otto Warmbier was detained in North Korea for more than 15 months.

The coroner said only an external exam was performed on Otto Warmbier, who arrived home in a coma.

North Korea claims Otto Warmbier’s coma was due to botulism and a sleeping pill, but his family and doctors disagree.

Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in March 2016 after being tried for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel.

The coroner’s office in Cincinnati, Ohio, said in a statement: “No conclusions about the cause and manner of Mr. Warmbier’s death have been drawn at this time as there are additional medical records and imaging to review and people to interview.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Mr. Warmbier at this time of their tragic loss.”

Doctors at the Cincinnati Medical Center, where Otto Warmbier was treated following his return to the US on June 13, determined he suffered from “unresponsive wakefulness”, also known as persistent vegetative state, due to “severe neurological injury”.

However, it remains unclear exactly what happened to the student while in North Korea detention. His family and doctors dispute North Korea’s version of events.

A funeral is to take place on June 21 at a high school in Wyoming, Ohio, that Otto Warmbier attended before enrolling at the University of Virginia.

“All those that wish to join his family in celebrating his life are cordially invited,” the announcement states.

President Donald Trump said on June 19 that a “lot of bad things happened” to Otto Warmbier at the hands of the “brutal regime”.

On June 20, the president tweeted that the US once again condemned North Korea “as we mourn its latest victim”.

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President Donald Trump has condemned North Korea’s “brutal regime” after the death of American student Otto Warmbier who had been jailed there for more than 15 months.

North Korea returned the 22-year-old student to the US last week, saying he had been in a coma for a year and that it was acting on humanitarian grounds.

Otto Warmbier’s parents said he had been subjected to “awful torturous mistreatment”.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a statement that their son had died at 14:20 local time on June 19 at the Cincinnati hospital where he had been receiving treatment.

They said he had “completed his journey home”.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier wrote: “When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands.

“He looked very uncomfortable – almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day, the countenance of his face changed – he was at peace. He was home, and we believe he could sense that.”

They also said: “The awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.”

Otto Warmbier, who was jailed in North Korea for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel, did not regain consciousness.

President Trump said that a “lot of bad things happened” to Otto Warmbier, but added: “At least we got him home to be with his parents, where they were so happy to see him, even though he was in very tough condition.”

The president said Otto Warmbier’s death had deepened his administration’s resolve “to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency”.

“The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”

The company Otto Warmbier traveled with, Chinese company Young Pioneer Tours, has announced it will no longer take visitors from the US to North Korea.

North Korea said Otto Warmbier had contracted botulism, a rare illness that causes paralysis, soon after his trial in March 2016. He was given a sleeping pill and had been in a coma ever since.

However, a team of doctors assessing Otto Warmbier in Cincinnati said they had found “no sign of botulism”.

Otto Warmbier had suffered a “severe neurological injury” of unknown cause, the doctors said, leading to an extensive loss of brain tissue.

He could open his eyes but showed no sign of response to communication.

Doctors said the most likely cause, given Otto Warmbier’s young age, was cardiopulmonary arrest that had cut the blood supply to the brain.

It is not known when Otto Warmbier had fallen into his coma and there is a suspicion it was quite recently, as the US was only told at the beginning of this month about his health situation.

The North Koreans may have realized there was the possibility of an American citizen dying on their hands.

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who has helped free other Americans in North Korea, said he had met North Korean envoys 20 times during Otto Warmbier’s incarceration and on no occasion was his health mentioned.

Bill Richardson called for the release of the three US citizens still held in North Korea:

  • Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalized US citizen born in South Korea, who was sentenced to ten years hard labor in April 2016 for spying;
  • Korean-American professor Kim Sang-duk (known as Tony Kim), who was detained in April 2017. The reasons for his arrest are not yet clear;
  • Kim Hak-song, like Kim Sang-duk, worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) and was detained in May 2017 on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the state.

President Donald Trump was criticized in May when he said he would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the “appropriate” time.

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The US authorities have been accused by North Korea of “literally mugging” its diplomats at a New York airport.

A spokesman for North Korea said the country’s officials had been “robbed” of a diplomatic package at John F. Kennedy Airport on June 16.

According to North Korea’s state news agency KCNA, the incident proved the US was a “lawless gangster state”.

The White House – which considers “solving” the North Korea crisis a priority – has yet to comment.

Image source Wikimedia

The North Korean diplomats were reportedly returning from a UN conference on disability rights when the incident – branded by KCNA as an “illegal and heinous act of provocation” – took place.

The news agency said: “The international community needs to seriously reconsider whether or not New York, where such an outrageous mugging is rampant, is fit to serve as the venue for international meetings.”

This alleged incident marks the latest addition to a catalogue of increasingly strained tensions between the two countries.

Last week, North Korea released American student Otto Warmbier, more than a year after he had been sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor.

Otto Warmbier was in a coma, showed no understanding of language, and had extensive brain tissue loss.

North Korea said Otto Warmbier’s coma was caused by botulism and a sleeping pill he took after his trial last year.

However, US doctors disputed this, while Otto Warmbier’s father said: “Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing the coma – and we don’t – there’s no excuse for a civilized nation to have kept his condition secret and to have denied him top notch medical care.”

North Korea had accused Otto Warmbier – who had been on a tour of North Korea – of stealing a propaganda sign, claims disputed by those who were with him on the trip.

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Otto Warmbier’s parents say the 22-year-old student was “brutalized” by North Korea’s “pariah regime”.

The American student is in a coma after being freed this week by North Korea.

Otto Warmbier is now being treated at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after the flight carrying him landed in Ohio on June 13.

He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel.

Otto Warmbier was given a sleeping pill after becoming ill after his trial in 2016 and did not wake up, North Korea said.

His parents, Fred and Cindy, said: “We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime.”

Former US ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who has previously served as special envoy to North Korea and in 2016 attempted to negotiate Otto Warmbier’s release, said the student’s family had updated him on their son’s condition.

“In no uncertain terms, North Korea must explain the causes of his coma,” Bill Richardson said.

If Otto Warmbier’s illness is the direct result of brutality in prison, there might be pressure on President Trump to take action against Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Otto Warmbier is an economics student from the University of Virginia, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio.

He was in North Korea as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours when he was arrested on January 2, 2016.

Otto Warmbier appeared emotional at a news conference a month later, in which he tearfully confessed to trying to take the sign as a “trophy” for a US church, adding: “The aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people.”

Foreign detainees in North Korea have previously recanted confessions, saying they were made under pressure.

After a short trial on March 16, Otto Warmbier was given a 15-year prison sentence for crimes against the state.

In a statement on June 13, Otto Warmbier’s parents said: “Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March 2016. We learned of this only one week ago.”

They were quoted by the Washington Post as saying they had been told Otto Warmbier had contracted botulism, a rare illness that causes paralysis, soon after his trial in March 2016.

Otto Warmbier was given a sleeping pill and had been in a coma ever since, the newspaper said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made no mention of Otto Warmbier’s condition in a statement, saying only that he was on his way home to be reunited with his family and would not make any further comment, out of respect for the privacy of the family.

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American citizen Otto Warmbier has been released from jail in North Korea, but his parents say he has been in a coma for a year.

According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the 22-year-old student was on his way home to the US.

Otto Warmbier’s family told media they had found out only last week that their son has been in a coma since shortly after his trial in March 2016.

He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for attempting to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel.

Otto Warmbier is an economics student from the University of Virginia, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio.

He was in North Korea as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours when he was arrested on January 2, 2016.

Otto Warmbier appeared emotional at a news conference a month later, in which he tearfully confessed to trying to take the sign as a “trophy” for a US church, adding “the aim of my task was to harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people”.

Foreign detainees in North Korea have previously recanted confessions, saying they were made under pressure.

After a short trial on March 2016, Otto Warmbier was given a 15-year prison sentence for crimes against the state.

His parents Fred and Cindy told CNN in early May that they had had no contact with their son for more than a year.

In a statement, Fred and Cindy Warmbier said: “Otto has left North Korea. He is on a Medivac flight on his way home.

“Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March 2016. We learned of this only one week ago.”

They were quoted by the Washington Post as saying they had been told their son had contracted botulism, a rare illness that causes paralysis, soon after his trial in March 2016.

Otto Warmbier was given a sleeping pill and had been in a coma ever since, the newspaper said.

Rex Tillerson made no mention of Otto Warmbier’s condition in his statement, saying only that he was on his way home to be reunited with his family and would not make any further comment, out of respect for the privacy of the family.

The US has in the past accused North Korea of detaining its citizens to use them as pawns in negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.

The arrests have come at a time of heightened tension between North Korea and the US and its regional neighbors.

Otto Warmbier’s release comes hours after former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrived in North Korea.

Dennis Rodman is a friend of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and has made several visits to the country in recent years.

There was some speculation that Dennis Rodman might plead the case for the American detainees, but en route to North Korea the basketball star told reporters “my purpose is to actually see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea”.

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Dennis Rodman is returning to North Korea after three years.

The controversial basketball star said he is travelling as a private citizen.

Dennis Rodman told reporters at Beijing airport, en route to North Korea: “I’m just trying to open the door.”

The former NBA star made headlines after befriending North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on previous trips to Pyongyang in 2013 and 2014. Dennis Rodman has called Kim Jong-un his “friend for life”.

The US state department said it is aware of Dennis Rodman’s visit.

Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said, according to Reuters: “We wish him well. But we have issued travel warnings to Americans and suggested they not travel to North Korea for their own safety.”

Dennis Rodman told reporters: “My purpose is to actually see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea, so that’s the main thing.”

Image source Wikimedia

It is unclear whether the former NBA player will also bring up the detention of US citizens in the country.

The US and North Korean tensions have intensified under President Donald Trump.

However, President Trump has also said he would be “honored” to meet Kim Jong-un, in the right circumstances.

Speaking at the airport on June 13, Dennis Rodman said: “I am pretty much sure that he [President Trump] is happy with the fact that I am over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.”

When asked about the former Chicago Bulls star ‘s North Korea visits in 2013, Donald Trump told Fox News: “You look at the world, the world is blowing up around us. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have.”

Dennis Rodman had been a contestant on Donald Trump’s reality TV show The Celebrity Apprentice that same year.

In 2014, Donald Trump flatly dismissed rumors that the pair might travel to North Korea together.

Dennis Rodman also once encouraged former President Barack Obama to “pick up the phone and call” Kim Jong-un, emphasizing that the two leaders both liked basketball.

His trips have been referred to as “basketball diplomacy” in the US press.

In 2014, Dennis Rodman told luxury lifestyle magazine DuJour he had approached the US government for support but was rejected.

He has previously broken down in tears during TV interviews, saying he has had death threats over his trips, which have been condemned by human rights activists.

Although at one point he did tweet Kim Jong-un to ask if he would “do me a solid and let Kenneth Bae loose” – referring to a US-Korean missionary who served two years in prison for trying to overthrow the government.

Kenneth Bae later thanked Dennis Rodman for raising public awareness of his case.

On June 13, Dennis Rodman tweeted that his latest trip was being sponsored by a company that provides digital currency for the marijuana industry. He wore fully branded clothes to the airport.

A previous trip to North Korea was sponsored by a betting company.

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According to South Korea’s military, North Korea has fired several anti-ship cruise missiles off its east coast.

Authorities said the weapons, launched on June 8 near the city of Wonsan, appeared to be short-range “surface-to-ship” missiles.

They flew about 125 miles before landing in the water.

Repeated ballistic missile tests by North Korea this year – not all successful but all a breach of UN sanctions – have sparked international alarm.

Photo KCNA

Experts fear the tests indicate progress towards North Korea’s ultimate goal of putting a nuclear warhead on a missile.

The latest firing, however, does not violate the UN Security Council’s resolutions against the North, as those resolutions only ban ballistic missile launches, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.

South Korean military spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said the latest launch showed the North “likely wanted to show off its ability to precisely target a large warship” after recent military drills involving US aircraft carriers and South Korean troops.

“By testing different types of missiles, North Korea also appears to be aiming to secure the upper hand in relations with South Korea and the United States,” Roh Jae-cheon told reporters.

Anti-ship cruise missiles are guided missiles which generally skim the water. In 2012, North Korea displayed several such weapons known as Styx.

North Korea has also previously unsuccessfully tested anti-ship ballistic missiles, experts believe.

On May 29, North Korea fired a Scud-type ballistic missile from the same location, which flew about 280 miles.

Last week the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a new resolution to impose targeted sanctions on certain North Korean officials and state entities.

The US has also ramped up its military presence in the region, conducting drills with Japan as well as South Korea, and is installing a controversial missile defense system in South Korea, known as Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).

However, South Korea said on June 7 it was suspending the further deployment of the system until an environmental assessment is completed.

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The UN has imposed new targeted sanctions against North Korea in response to a series of missile tests conducted by Pyongyang this year.

The measures impose a travel ban and asset freeze on four entities and 14 officials, including the head of North Korea’s overseas spying operations.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously to back the sanctions after weeks of negotiations between the US and China.

North Korea has defied a UN resolution banning all nuclear and missile tests.

The sanctions resolution was adopted by the 15-member council on June 2.

Among the 14 North Korean officials is Cho Il-u, who leads Pyongyang’s foreign espionage operations.

The other blacklisted officials are senior members of North Korea’s Workers’ Party and heads of trading companies funding Pyongyang’s military program.

North Korea’s strategic rocket force, the Koryo Bank and two trading companies were also added to the list.

The Koryo Bank is linked to a party office that manages finances of North Korea’s top officials, including leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has been testing its missiles at an unprecedented pace. It says its nuclear program is defensive and intended to counter US aggression.

However, experts fear the tests indicate progress towards North Korea’s ultimate goal of putting a nuclear warhead on a missile that could strike the continental US.

President Donald Trump has warned North Korea that America’s “strategic patience” over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions came to an end.

Washington has recently sent its aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula.

At the same time, the US has been negotiating with China – North Korea’s ally – to put more pressure on the secretive regime.

The UN Security Council first imposed sanctions against North Korea in 2006 in response to its missile and nuclear programs.

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A US aircraft has been “unprofessional” intercepted by two Chinese Sukhoi Su-30 jets, the US military said.

One of the Chinese jets came as close as 150ft to the US WC-135 plane and flew upside down above it, according to US officials cited by CNN.

According to the US military, the plane was on a mission to detect radiation in international airspace over the East China Sea.

Tensions have repeatedly risen over US activity near the resource-rich international waters off China’s coast.

The intercept, which took place on May 17, was deemed unprofessional “due to the maneuvers by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft”, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Lori Hodge said.

He said the issue was “being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels”, and a military investigation was under way.

Image source Wikimedia

China has not commented on the incident, but it accuses the US of carrying out reconnaissance flights over Chinese coastal waters and regularly calls on the US to reduce patrols in the area.

It claims sovereignty over almost all of the disputed territory in the South and East China seas, though several other countries in the region have competing claims.

China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols.

The US plane has previously been used to detect evidence of possible nuclear tests by North Korea.

Separately, China and South East Asian countries have agreed a framework for a long-awaited code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea, China’s foreign ministry said, without giving details on the content.

The draft will now be submitted to the foreign ministers of the countries in August.

Over the years, the US, China and several of the South East Asian countries have had disputes over rival activity in the South China Sea.

Moon Jae-in has been sworn in as South Korea’s new leader following his decisive win in the presidential election.

He vowed to address the economy and relations with North Korea in his first speech as president.

Moon Jae-in, 64, said that he would even be willing to visit Pyongyang under the right circumstances.

He took his oath of office in Seoul’s National Assembly building a day after his victory.

The former human rights lawyer and son of North Korean refugees is known for his liberal views.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula remain high and recent weeks have seen the US and North Korea trade angry rhetoric as speculation about another nuclear test grows.

Moon Jae-in has also vowed to unify a divided country reeling from a corruption scandal which saw his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, impeached.

In his inauguration speech, Moon Jae-in said he would “do everything I can to build peace on the Korean peninsula”.

Image source Wikipedia

“If needed I will fly to Washington immediately,” he said.

“I will also go to Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang in the right circumstances.”

Moon Jae-in added that he would have “serious negotiations” with the US and China over the controversial deployment of anti-missile system THAAD.

North Korea has yet to officially comment on Moon Jae-in’s victory and remarks. It had previously hinted that Moon Jae-in was its preferred candidate.

The Democratic Party candidate has also promised to bolster the economy and address youth unemployment, which are key concerns for voters.

Moon Jae-in has been critical of the two previous conservative administrations, which took a hard-line stance against Pyongyang, for failing to stop North Korea’s weapons development.

Since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, there have only been two summits where the leaders of the two Koreas have met, both held in Pyongyang.

Moon Jae-in spearheaded preparations for the second meeting in 2007, when serving as a presidential aide.

The US, South Korea’s most important ally, has congratulated Moon Jae-in on his victory.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the US looked forward to continuing to “strengthen the alliance” and “deepen the enduring friendship and partnership”.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe said their countries faced common challenges “led by responses to the North Korean issue” but they could “further contribute to peace and prosperity of the region by working together”.

China’s President Xi Jinping said he “always attaches great importance to the relationship between China and South Korea”, and that he was “willing to diligently work with” with Moon Jae-in to ensure both countries benefit, reported Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Voters in South Korea are going to polls to elect a new president after a huge corruption scandal brought down the former leader, Park Geun-hye.

Liberal Moon Jae-in is the strong favorite with centrist Ahn Cheol-soo his nearest challenger.

South Korea’s economic issues are a big concern for voters but the election could see a shift in policy towards North Korea.

Moon Jae-in wants to increase contact with North Korea in contrast to impeached President Park Geun-hye who cut almost all ties.

A record turnout is predicted, with numbers boosted by younger voters, as South Koreans choose from 13 candidates.

Polls close at 20:00 local time, with the winner expected to be announced soon after. The new leader is likely to be sworn-in on May 10.

Heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula in recent weeks have made the perennial worries over the South’s volatile neighbor a key issue.

Moon Jae-in, of the Democratic Party of Korea, has advocated greater dialogue with North Korea while maintaining pressure and sanctions.

Both Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo have urged President Donald Trump to cool his rhetoric towards North Korea after his administration suggested it could take military action over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

However, Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative governing Liberty Korea Party has attacked Moon Jae-in’s approach, saying last week that the election was a “war of regime choices”.

North Korea state media said it favored a return to an earlier era of communication and co-operation known as the Sunshine policy, seen as an endorsement of Moon Jae-in who was part of the previous South Korean government which promoted that policy.

All the candidates are promising to protect the fragile recovery in the country’s economy – the fourth largest in Asia – and to bring down youth unemployment, which remains stubbornly high.

There have been vows to reform the family-run conglomerates – chaebols – which dominate the domestic economy.

Whoever wins will have to tackle ties with China, which retaliated economically over the deployment of a US missile defense system in South Korea.

All candidates have been promising a break from the past as symbolized by the deeply unpopular Park Geun-hye.

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North Korea has announced it has detained US citizen Kim Hak-song on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the state.

Kim Hak-song worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) and was held on May 6, state-run news agency KCNA said.

Three other US citizens are currently held in North Korea, including Kim Sang-duck, who had taught at PUST.

The US has in the past accused North Korea of detaining its citizens to use them as pawns.

KCNA said that “a relevant institution” was “conducting [a] detailed investigation” into Kim Hak-song’s alleged crimes.

It gave no further details.

A State Department official said Washington was “aware of reports that a US citizen was detained in North Korea”, adding it would liaise with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which helps look after US interests in North Korea.

Kim Hak-song had previously described himself as a Christian missionary who intended to start an experimental farm at PUST, Reuters reported, citing an online post by Kim Hak-song.

PUST is a university that mostly teaches the children of North Korea’s elite.

It was founded in 2010 by a Korean-American Christian entrepreneur, with much of the costs funded by US and South Korea Christian charities.

Several foreign lecturers are thought to teach at the university.

The detention comes amid heightened tensions between North Korea and the US.

Pyongyang has threatened to carry out a new nuclear test – while the US has sent a warship to the region and vowed to stop the North from developing nuclear weapons.

On May 5, North Korea accused US and South Korean agents of plotting to kill its Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.

The US and South Korean governments did not comment on the allegations, but experts were skeptical about the claim.

Kim Hak-song’s arrest makes him the fourth US citizen to be held by North Korea.

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The controversial THAAD missile defense system is now operational in South Korea, the US military says.

The system can intercept North Korean missiles although full operational capability is still some months away.

Tensions have been rising around the Korean peninsula, with repeated threats from North Korea and the presence of a group of US warships and a submarine.

North Korea reacted angrily to the latest military exercise, accusing the US of risking a nuclear war.

The rise in tension comes only a day after President Donald Trump said he would be “honored” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in the right circumstances.

The US announced last week it would activate THAAD, which was not expected to be in use until late 2017, within days.

THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) has been installed at a former golf course in the central county of Seongju, amid angry protests.

Image source Wikimedia

Many locals believe the system is a potential target for attacks and endangers the lives of those living nearby.

China also strongly opposes the system, believing it interferes with the security of its own military operations. On May 2, Beijing demanded the deployment be halted.

China would “firmly take necessary measures to uphold our interests”, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

However, Geng Shuang welcomed President Trump’s suggestion of meeting Kim Jong-un, saying China had “always believed that dialogue and consultation… is the only realistic and viable way to achieve denuclearization”.

When the announcement of the THAAD deployment was made last year, North Korea promised a physical response, with state media expressing the “unwavering will of our army to deal a ruthless retaliatory strike”.

A spokesman for the US forces based in South Korea said THAAD now had “the ability to defend the Republic of Korea”.

However, the system only has “initial intercept capability”, a US defense official told AFP. It will be strengthened later this year as more parts of the system arrive.

North Korea and the US have traded heated rhetoric in recent weeks as Pyongyang continues to defy a UN ban on missile tests.

Pyongyang has carried out two failed missile launches in recent weeks and has said it is ready to carry out its sixth nuclear test at any time.

North Korea reacted angrily on May 2 to a joint US-South Korea military exercise the day before involving two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers, which it said was a “nuclear bomb dropping drill”.

“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said.

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Japan has dispatched its biggest helicopter carrier, Izumo, in the first such operation since it passed controversial laws expanding the role of its military.

The Izumo is escorting a US supply vessel within Japanese waters.

The US ship is heading to refuel the naval fleet in the region, including the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group.

North Korea has threatened to sink the Carl Vinson and a US submarine, amid rising tensions in the region.

On April 30, North Korea also carried out a failed missile test, despite repeated warnings from the US and others to stop its nuclear and missile activity.

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According to The Japan Times, the 249m-long Izumo can carry up to nine helicopters, and resembles US amphibious assault carriers.

Kyodo news agency said it was leaving its base in Yokosuka south of Tokyo to join the US supply ship, and accompany it to waters off Shikoku in western Japan.

Under PM Shinzo Abe, Japan is gradually pushing the limits of what its modern and powerful military is allowed to do, and with tensions high on the Korean peninsula.

Japan’s post-World War Two constitution bars its military from using force to resolve conflicts except in cases of self-defense.

The Izumo is the first warship deployed outside of military exercises under new laws passed in 2015 that allow Japan to come to the aid of an ally under attack known as “collective self-defense”.

Shinzo Abe’s government, which pushed for the change, faced criticism that the new laws could lead Japan into unnecessary wars abroad – something the prime minister has rejected.

The Izumo’s deployment follows recent joint exercises conducted by Japan and the US, and other naval developments.

A French amphibious assault ship arrived in south-west Japan on April 29 for an exercise also involving Japanese, US and British naval forces. South Korea has been conducting joint exercises with the US as well.

China last week also launched its second aircraft carrier.

President Donald Trump’s strategy on North Korea is to tighten sanctions on the secretive country and step up diplomatic moves aimed at pressuring it to end its nuclear and missile programs.

The strategy was announced after a special briefing for all 100 US senators.

Earlier, the top US commander in the Pacific defended the deployment of an advanced missile defense system in South Korea.

Tensions in the Korean Peninsula raised amid fears North Korea is planning new weapons tests.

A joint statement issued by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said: “The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

“We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.

“The president’s approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.”

The US already has extensive sanctions in place on North Korea, including a blanket ban on trade and a blacklist of anyone dealing with North Korea.

It is not clear what further sanctions the US could impose.

Democratic Senator Christopher Coons told reporters that military options were discussed at the special presidential briefing for senators.

“It was a sobering briefing in which it was clear just how much thought and planning was going into preparing military options if called for – and a diplomatic strategy that strikes me as clear-eyed and well-proportioned to the threat,” he said.

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A White House official said an option under consideration was to put North Korea back on the state department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

President Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, imposed sanctions over a year ago following a nuclear test and satellite launch by North Korea.

North Korean government property in America was frozen and US exports to, or investment in, North Korea was banned.

The order also greatly expanded powers to blacklist anyone, including non-Americans, dealing with North Korea.

The senators received a highly unusual briefing by the Trump administration on the seriousness of the threat from North Korea and Donald Trump’s strategy for dealing with it on April 26.

Earlier Admiral Harry Harris, head of US Pacific Command, said the US would be ready “with the best technology” to defeat any missile threat.

The deployment of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea was aimed, he argued, at bringing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “to his senses, not to his knees”.

Admiral Harry Harris said he believed that North Korea would try to attack the US as soon as it had the military capabilities.

China says the deployment of THAAD will destabilize security and there have been protests in South Korea itself, where three people were injured in clashes with police as the system was being delivered to a former golf course on April 26.

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Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) has named the American citizen detained in North Korea on April 22 as Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim.

The Korean-American lecturer taught at the North Korean university for several weeks prior to his arrest.

Tony Kim was arrested just as he was about to leave Pyongyang.

North Korean authorities have not yet disclosed the reason for the arrest.

According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, Tony Kim, who is in his late 50s, was involved in aid programs and had been in North Korea to discuss relief activities.

Kim Sang-duk reportedly taught at Yanbian University of Science and Technology in China, which is affiliated to PUST.

Image source CNN

PUST’s chancellor, Park Chan-mo, was quoted by Reuters as saying that Tony Kim “had been involved with some other activities outside PUST such as helping an orphanage”.

The US State Department said it was aware of reports of the detention, but would not comment further because of “privacy considerations”, US media reported.

The detention comes as tensions ratchet up in the Korean peninsula, with US warships steaming towards the region as Pyonyang threatens a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike”.

Chinese state media reported that President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump spoke on the phone again on April 24.

Xi Jinping reiterated his call for calm saying he “hopes relevant parties exercise restraint, and avoid actions that would increase tensions”, and both leaders promised to keep in touch regarding the Korean peninsula, reports said.

US officials have not yet confirmed the call.

The US has in the past accused North Korea of detaining its citizens to use them as pawns. Tony Kim is one of three US citizens currently being held by North Korea.

In April 2016, Kim Dong-chul, a 62-year-old naturalized US citizen born in South Korea, was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor for spying. He was arrested in October 2015.

American student Otto Warmbier, 21, was arrested in January 2016 for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel while visiting North Korea.

Otto Warmbier was given 15 years hard labor for crimes against the state in March 2016.

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North Korea has said it is “ready to hit back with nuclear attacks” if the US will take provocative action in the region.

The comments came as North Korea marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founding president, Kim Il-sung.

Soldiers, tanks and other military hardware were paraded in the capital Pyongyang in a show of strength on April 15.

It comes amid speculation that the current leader, Kim Jong-un, could order another nuclear test.

North Korean military official Choe Ryong-Hae said: “We’re prepared to respond to an all-out war with an all-out war.”

He added: “We are ready to hit back with nuclear attacks of our own style against any nuclear attacks.”

Photo Reuters

North Korea staged an extravagant display of military strength at April 15 parade amid concern that mounting tensions in the region could lead to a conflict with the US.

Rows of military bands and columns of troops marched into Pyongyang’s main Kim Il-sung square in the heart of the city.

On display for the first time were what appeared to be submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), which could be developed to house nuclear warheads capable of reaching targets around the world.

With concerns that the state is getting closer to successfully producing a nuclear arsenal, the parade was an opportunity for Kim Jong-un to broadcast North Korea’s current military capabilities.

The event made clear how vital North Korea’s nuclear program is to its future ambitions as it continues to ignore growing pressure from the US to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and a series of missile launches. Experts and government officials believe it is working to develop nuclear-warhead missiles that can reach the US.

On April, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that “conflict could break out at any moment”, adding that if war occurred there could be no winner.

China, North Korea’s only backer, fears conflict could cause the regime to collapse and problems on its border.

“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage,” Wang Yi said.

Adding to Chinese unease, President Donald Trump said on April 13 that “the problem of North Korea” would be “taken care of”.

“If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.”

President Trump has recently demonstrated his willingness to resort to military methods. He ordered a cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack, and the US military just used a huge bomb against ISIS in Afghanistan.

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President Donald Trump is hosting China talks with President Xi Jinping at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago for their first summit.

President Trump said they had “developed a friendship” as they sat for dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

He is expected to press President Xi for action on North Korea, and the Chinese leader to seek assurances on Taiwan.

President Trump has said the summit “will be a very difficult one”. In 2016, he accused China of “raping the US”.

During the election campaign, Donald Trump said massive trade deficits and job losses could no longer be tolerated. However, at dinner on April 6, it was all smiles, with the leaders’ two wives, folk singer Peng Liyuan and First Lady Melania Trump also in attendance.

The meeting was, however, largely overshadowed later by a US airstrike on an airbase in Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack.

Despite his tough campaign talk, Donald Trump has so far not followed through on his threat to formally brand China a “currency manipulator”, nor to hit Chinese imports with punitive tariffs.

His blue-collar supporters will hope he can translate his China-bashing election rhetoric into concrete gains for American manufacturing workers.

One of the most urgent issues for the US is North Korea, which is trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the west coast of the US with a nuclear device.

North Korea fired a medium-range missile into the Sea of Japan on April 5, the latest in a series of launches.

Although Beijing has condemned this and previous missile tests, it has so far been reluctant to isolate its neighbor, fearing its collapse could spawn a refugee crisis and bring the US military to its doorstep.

Donald Trump is expected to call on Xi Jinping to arm-twist North Korea into halting its nuclear program by denying it access to banking institutions.

The president told the Financial Times this week he was prepared to act unilaterally, saying: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”

A senior White House official said North Korea would be a key test for the Trump-Xi relationship.

“The clock is very, very quickly running out,” the official said.

“All options are on the table for us.”

For his part, President Xi Jinping will seek assurances from President Donald Trump on US arms sales to Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province that must eventually reunify with the mainland.

Donald Trump outraged China in December when he took the unorthodox step of accepting a phone call from the Taiwanese president.

However, he later agreed to respect the “one China” policy in a telephone call with President Xi Jinping in February.

Climate change, which Donald Trump once dismissed as a Chinese hoax, and Beijing’s building of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, could also come up.

Some protesters lined the streets on April 6 to voice their opposition to China’s policy in the South China Sea.

President Xi Jinping’s visit will conclude with a working lunch on April 7.

However, there is unlikely to be any golf on the agenda. While Donald Trump is fond of hitting the fairway, Xi Jinping’s administration has cracked down on the sport in an anti-corruption drive.

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Kim Jong-nam’s body has arrived in North Korea, Chinese officials have confirmed.

Pyongyang had requested the body of Kin Jong-un’s half-brother, but has not confirmed its identity.

The body was released as part of a deal under which nine Malaysians previously prevented from leaving North Korea have now arrived home.

Malaysia and North Korea had been locked in a diplomatic row in the wake of Kim Jong-nam’s murder in Kuala Lumpur last month.

Both countries had banned each other’s citizens from leaving.

“The body of the DPRK citizen who died in Malaysia and relevant DPRK citizens have returned to the DPRK today via Beijing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said during a regular press briefing, using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea is widely suspected of having orchestrated the killing of Kim Jong-nam with VX nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur’s airport.

Three North Koreans who had been wanted for questioning have now been allowed to leave Malaysia, Malaysia’s chief of police said.

Image source Getty Images

“We have obtained whatever we wanted from them” and are “satisfied” with the statements, Khalid Abu Bakar said.

In the wake of Kim Jong-nam’s killing on February 13, Pyongyang reacted angrily when Malaysia refused to hand over the body immediately, without an autopsy.

Malaysian authorities said they had the right to conduct an autopsy as he had been killed on Malaysian soil, and that they would only release the body to Kim Jong-nam’s family.

On March 30, Malysian PM Najib Razak said a formal request had been received from the family, but gave no further details.

A day later, national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said “legally speaking, Kim Jong-un is the next-of-kin” but declined to say who the request had come from.

King Jong-nam’s own family previously lived in Macau but they are now thought to be in hiding.

His son Kim Han-sol appeared in a video earlier this month confirming he was with his mother and sister at an unspecified location.

Although Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son of the former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un was passed over for the leadership and was living outside North Korea at the time of his father’s death.

Malaysia’s refusal to hand over Kim Jong-nam’s body prompted a war of words. North Korea’s ambassador Kang Chol accused Malaysia of colluding with “hostile forces”, allegations which Kuala Lumpur dubbed as “delusions, lies and half-truths”.

Kang Chol was expelled and the Malaysian ambassador to North Korea was also recalled.

North Korea then said it would ban all Malaysians in the country from leaving until the “situation was resolved”, which Malaysia’s PM Najib Razak called an “abhorrent act” that effectively held his citizens hostage.

Kuala Lumpur enacted a tit-for-tat exit ban on North Koreans.

Under the deal, the nine Malaysian nationals returned to Kuala Lumpur on March 31, where they were met by relatives.

They include Malaysia’s counselor to North Korea, Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, embassy staff, and their families.

The exact circumstances of how the deal was struck remain unclear. PM Najib Razak described the negotiations as “challenging”.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman hailed the exchange as a success of diplomacy and “level-headedness”.

Reuters reported that TV footage showed two North Koreans on the flight to Beijing with the body: Hyon Kwang-song, the second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk-il, a North Korean state airline employee.

The third was named Ri Ji-u, who had been holed up with them in the North Korean Embassy, Reuters quoted the chief of police as saying.

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged the United States to remain “cool-headed” over North Korea.

The situation was at a “crossroads”, but must not be allowed to develop into a conflict, he said after meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Rex Tillerson spoke of “dangerous levels” of tension, a day after suggesting the US might launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

North Korea is working to develop nuclear missiles that can reach the United States.

Rex Tillerson is in Beijing in the final leg of his East Asia tour, which has been dominated by anxieties over North Korea.

Last week, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles – defying UN resolutions.

Image source Flickr

In South Korea on March 17, Rex Tillerson said a US military response would be on the table if North Korea threatened South Korea or US forces.

And President Trump tweeted that North Korea was “behaving very badly”.

Donald Trump also said that China – North Korea’s main ally – had done “little to help”.

Wang Yi defended China’s position, saying all parties were duty-bound to implement UN sanctions against North Korea, but also to seek dialogue and diplomatic solutions.

He said: “We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision.”

Secretary Rex Tillerson did not repeat his threat in Beijing, but stressed that the US and China shared “a common view that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now – and that things have reached a rather dangerous level”.

However, he added that they had both committed “to do whatever we can to prevent any kind of conflict breaking out”.

The US has deployed its Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) in South Korea in a move it says is designed to protect against threats from North Korea.

However, China has claimed the system goes “far beyond” the defense needs of the Korean peninsula.

Secretary Tillerson, a former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 19.

President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the US in April for his first meeting with President Donald Trump.

Some commentators expect Rex Tillerson to downplay any tensions between the two countries ahead of that encounter.

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Malaysia has expelled North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol after he criticized the country’s investigation into the killing of Kim Jong-nam.

Ambassador Kang Chol must leave within 48 hours, Malaysia’s foreign ministry says.

Malaysia demanded an apology after the ambassador said North Korea could not trust its handling of the probe, but says it did not receive one.

Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, died on February 13 at a Kuala Lumpur airport.

Malaysia has not directly blamed North Korea for the attack, in which two women smeared the nerve agent VX on Kim Jong-nam’s face. However, there is widespread suspicion North Korea was responsible.

Kang Chol, who had become a fierce critic of Malaysia, said the probe into the killing had become “politicized” and was being interfered with.

The foreign minister declared the ambassador “persona non grata”, and said his country had demanded an apology for the comments, but this was not forthcoming.

Image source Getty Images

Anifah Aman said in a statement: “Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation.”

Ambassador Kang Chol also failed to turn up for a meeting at the Malaysian foreign ministry on March 4, he added.

Malaysia is seeking to question several North Koreans, including an embassy official, over the death of Kim Jong-nam.

Two women, one from Vietnam another from Indonesia, have been charged with murder. They both said they thought they were taking part in a TV prank, but are yet to make a formal plea in their case.

The expulsion of the North Korean ambassador also comes after the Malaysian government announced an investigation into a company called Glocom, which has been operating in Malaysia for several years.

According to a confidential United Nations report, Glocom is run by North Korea’s top intelligence agency to sell military communications equipment, in violation of UN sanctions.

Malaysia was one of very few countries that had relatively friendly relations with North Korea.

However, it canceled visa-free travel for visiting North Koreans in the wake of the killing, citing security reasons. It had already recalled its ambassador in Pyongyang as it investigated the case.

North Korea has not yet confirmed that the body is that of Kim Jong-nam, acknowledging him only as a North Korean citizen.

Kim Jong-nam was traveling using a passport under a different name.

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Ri Jong-chol, the North Korean suspect questioned in connection with the death of Kim Jong-nam, has said he was the victim of a conspiracy by the Malaysian authorities.

The suspect said his detention was a “plot” to “damage the honor of the republic”, Reuters reports.

Ri Jong-chol made the comments outside the North Korea embassy in Beijing after he was deported from Malaysia on March 3.

He was released from police custody due to insufficient evidence.

Speaking to reporters early on March 4, Ri Jong-chol accused Malaysian investigators of using coercion in an attempt to extract a confession.

He said: “If I just accept everything, they will make arrangements for a good life in Malaysia.”

Ri Jong-chol added: “This is when I realized that it was a trap. It was a trap to bring down the reputation of my country.”

When questioned about reports of a car discovered near the airport said to be registered in his name, Ri Jong-chol said: “It was in my car garage. Malaysian police accepted this too.”

He admitted to investigators that he was an expert in chemistry, but said that he worked in Malaysia “importing ingredients needed for soap”.

Malaysian authorities are continuing their investigation into the death of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who was killed with nerve agent VX at a Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13.

Ri Jong-chol, who said he was not at the airport on the day of the incident, was the only North Korean held in connection with the death.

Malaysia is seeking to question several North Koreans, including an embassy official.

Two women, Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam and Siti Aisyah from Indonesia, were charged on March 2 with killing Kim Jong-nam by smearing his face with VX, a banned chemical weapon.

Both women said they thought they were taking part in a TV prank. They have yet to make a formal plea in their case.

Malaysia, which has condemned the use of the powerful nerve agent in the attack, is also investigating a company thought to be used by North Korea to evade sanctions on military exports.

According to Reuters, Ri Jong-chol had lived in Malaysia for three years, but his work permit expired on February 6.

Malaysia’s immigration director-general Mustafar Ali said Ri Jong-chol, who was escorted out of the country by two North Korean embassy officials, was blacklisted from re-entering the country.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government said it had launched an investigation into a company called Glocom, which has been operating in the country for several years.

According to a confidential UN report, Glocom is run by North Korea’s top intelligence agency to sell military communications equipment, in violation of United Nations sanctions.

On March 3, Malaysian police said that an arrest warrant had been issued for 37-year-old Kim Uk-il, who works for North Korean national airline Air Koryo. He is believed to be still in Malaysia.

Security checks on North Koreans had been stepped up at all border crossings to prevent them from leaving, Reuters reported.

On March 2, Malaysia announced it was cancelling visa-free travel for visiting North Koreans, citing security reasons.

It has not directly blamed North Korea for the attack, but there is widespread suspicion Pyongyang was responsible.

North Korea has strongly rejected the allegations. Pyonyang also rejected the findings of the post-mortem examination, having objected to it being carried out at all, and has demanded the body be handed over to them.

It has not yet confirmed that the body is that of Kim Jong-nam, acknowledging him only as a North Korean citizen.

Kim Jong-nam was traveling using a passport under a different name.