TOKYO — North Korea has sent a high-ranking diplomat to Malaysia to try to secure the remains of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half brother, who was killed in a chemical-weapon poisoning two weeks ago.
Malaysian police, meanwhile, said they would press murder charges against the two women accused of carrying out the attack. Some local reports said authorities would seek the death penalty.
The dramatic killing of Kim Jong Nam — with a certified weapon of mass destruction at a busy airport — has not only raised questions about the North’s role in possibly plotting the killing but has also strained Pyongyang’s relations with its few friends in the world.
As one North Korean delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur, another landed in Beijing, just days after the Chinese government imposed a potentially devastating ban on coal imports from North Korea. Pyongyang responded by accusing its closest ally of “dancing to the tune of the U.S.”
Kim Jong Nam, the estranged older half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was killed with VX, an internationally banned nerve agent, in the budget airline terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.
South Korea has accused Kim Jong Un of ordering a “terrorist” attack to remove a potential rival, and Yun Byung-se, the South’s foreign minister, called Tuesday for North Korea to be expelled from the United Nations.
“Now is the time, I believe, for us to seriously consider taking more fundamental measures on their membership in relevant regional and international forums, including the U.N.,” he said at a conference in Geneva, according to the South’s Yonhap News Agency.
Arriving in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, Ri Tong Il, a former North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, said he wanted to discuss the “humanitarian issue” of the return of the body as well as the release of a North Korean scientist arrested in connection with the killing.
Malaysia says it will not release the body without DNA identification, but no family member has come forward to provide it. North Korea has not admitted that the body belongs to the leader’s half brother, simply referring to him as a North Korean citizen on a diplomatic passport.
“Development of friendly relations between North Korea and the Malaysian government will also be discussed,” Ri told reporters outside the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia, which has had relatively cordial relations with North Korea, a fellow member of the Non-Aligned Movement, has implicated eight North Koreans in the attack. In addition to the scientist, it has named Hyon Kwang Song, second secretary at the embassy, as being involved.
Separately, Malaysian police said the two women arrested in the attack would be charged with murder Wednesday. The pair, Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian citizen Siti Aisyah, have claimed that they were set up. They said they were told that the attack was a prank for a reality TV show and were paid about $90 each to participate.
But security camera footage shows the women moving with determination and hurrying to restrooms afterward, presumably to wash their hands. VX, which killed Kim Jong Nam within 20 minutes, has an oily consistency that is soluble in cold water.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it has invited Ri Kil Song, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, to discuss “issues of mutual concern.”
After North Korea’s launch of a medium-range ballistic missile this month — then the killing of Kim Jong Nam — China announced that it would suspend all imports of coal from North Korea until the end of the year.
Coal is North Korea’s largest export, and almost all of it goes through China, meaning that the move, if implemented as outlined, would cut off a major financial lifeline for Pyongyang.
After the announcement, North Korea’s state news agency released an unusually punchy commentary accusing a neighboring country — evidently China — of “styling itself [as] a big power” and of engaging in “mean behavior.” The Chinese-language version was even more overtly hostile, headlined: “Contemptible Method, Vulgar Calculation.”