North Korean murder suspects go home with victim's body as Malaysia forced to swap

KUALA LUMPUR: Three North Koreans wanted for questioning over the murder of the estranged half-brother of their country’s leader returned home on Friday (Mar 31) along with the body of victim Kim Jong Nam after Malaysia agreed a swap deal with the reclusive state.

Malaysian police investigating what U.S. and South Korean officials say was an assassination carried out by North Korean agents took statements from the three North Koreans before they were allowed to leave the country.

“We have obtained whatever we want from them … They have assisted us and they have been allowed to leave,” police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, saying there was no grounds to hold the men.

Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of the North’s young, unpredictable leader Kim Jong Un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on Feb 13 in a bizarre assassination using VX nerve agent, a chemical so lethal that it is on a UN list of weapons of mass destruction.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the remains of a North Korean citizen killed in Malaysia were returned to North Korea via Beijing along with “relevant” North Korean citizens.

Malaysian authorities released Kim’s body on Thursday in a deal that secured the release of nine Malaysian citizens held in Pyongyang after a drawn out diplomatic spat.

Malaysian police had named eight North Koreans they wanted to question in the case, including the three who were given safe passage to leave Malaysia on Thursday evening.

Television footage obtained by Reuters from Japanese media showed Hyon Kwang Song, the second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk Il, a North Korean state airline employee on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The police chief confirmed they were accompanied by compatriot Ri Ji U, also known as James, who had been hiding with them at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

A van believed to be carrying the body of Kim Jong Nam leaves the Kuala Lumpur Hospital. (Photo: Kyodo/via Reuters)

Malaysian police had named eight North Koreans they wanted to question in the case, including the three who were given safe passage to leave Malaysia on Thursday evening.

Television footage obtained by Reuters from Japanese media showed Hyon Kwang Song, the second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and Kim Uk Il, a North Korean state airline employee on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The police chief confirmed they were accompanied by compatriot Ri Ji U, also known as James, who had been hiding with them at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian prosecutors have charged two women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – with killing him, but South Korean and US officials had regarded them as pawns in an operation carried out by North Korean agents.

Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in exile in the Chinese territory of Macau for several years, survived an attempt on his life in 2012, according to South Korean lawmakers.

They say Kim Jong Un had issued a “standing order” for his assassination to consolidate his own power following their father’s death in 2011.

The other North Koreans named by Malaysian investigators are all back in North Korea.

Police believe four fled Malaysia on the same day as the murder and another was held for a week before being released due to insufficient evidence.

Angered by the probe, North Korea issued a travel ban on Malaysians earlier this month, trapping three diplomats and six family members – including four children – in Pyongyang.

Malaysia, which had previously friendly ties with the unpredictable nuclear-armed state, responded with a ban of its own, but was left with little option but to accede to North Korea’s demands for the return of the body and safe passage for the three nationals hiding in the embassy.


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak , who is currently on an official visit in India, issued a statement announcing the return of the body, but did not mention Kim by name.

“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,” Najib said, adding that the murder investigation would continue.

North Korea has maintained that the dead man is not Kim Jong Nam and that the body is that of Kim Chol, the name given in a passport found on the victim.

Najib’s statement did not mention the safe passage given to the North Koreans that police had wanted to question, but it did say the travel ban on North Koreans leaving Malaysia had been lifted.

North Korea also released a statement saying both countries managed to “resolve issues arising from the death of a DPRK national.”

The swap agreement brings to an end nearly seven weeks of diplomatic standoff, with Pyongyang finally getting its way, analysts said.

“It is a win (for North Korea), clearly,” Andrei Lankov, North Korea expert at Seoul’s Kookmin University said on the swap deal. “I presume the Malaysians decided not to get too involved in a remote country’s palace intrigues, and wanted their hostages back.”

Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation.

Fearful of his half-brother’s regime, he spent the last few years living in exile in the Chinese territory of Macau, and his family has gone into hiding since the murder.


The nine Malaysians who had been trapped in Pyongyang arrived in Kuala Lumpur early Friday morning on board a small Bombardier business jet operated by the Malaysian air force.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Anan (third from right) with the nine Malaysian citizens who were previously stranded in Pyongyang as they return home. (Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin)

Pilot Hasrizan Kamis said the crew dressed in civilian clothes as a “precautionary step” for the mission.

According to the Plane Finder tracking website the Bombardier took off from Pyongyang at the same time that the Malaysian Airlines flight MH360 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, one of the returning diplomats, said it had been an anxious period but they “were not particularly harassed” by the North Korean authorities.

The episode, however, is likely to have cost North Korea one of its few friends.

“I think this relationship is going to go into cold storage for a very long time,” said Dennis Ignatius, a former Malaysian diplomat.

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Nine Malaysians freed by North Korea arrive home

KUALA LUMPUR: Nine Malaysians freed by Pyongyang arrived home early on Friday (Mar 31), after Kuala Lumpur agreed to send back the body of the assassinated half-brother of North Korea’s leader, ending a bitter feud between the two countries.

Kim Jong Nam was killed with the lethal nerve agent VX on Feb 13 in a Kuala Lumpur airport, triggering a diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea, which expelled each other’s ambassadors and barred their citizens from leaving.

But a deal announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and confirmed by North Korean state media on Thursday said the two countries had lifted their respective travel bans, and Kuala Lumpur would send the body to North Korea.

The Malaysians, three embassy staff and six family members, landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport before sunrise where they were met on the tarmac by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.

Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Anan (3rd R) walks with the nine Malaysians as they return home, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (Photo: REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin)

There were emotional scenes at the airport as they were embraced by tearful relatives who had also gathered to meet them.

Mohamad Nor Azrin, counsellor of the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang, said that while they had not been threatened and were free to move around they were not allowed to leave.

“We were very concerned because we had done no wrong. But we had to keep our spirits up,” he told reporters.

Najib, who had earlier declared the diplomatic crisis over, said on Twitter on Friday: “Thank God, all nine Malaysians from Pyongyang have arrived safely in our homeland.”

Najib had earlier announced the body was being sent back “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 prime minister did not specify who in the family had made the request. Kim’s wife and children, who were living in exile in the Chinese territory of Macau, staged a vanishing act after the murder and are believed to be in hiding.

The US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said in a statement on Friday that they were pleased the Malaysians had been allowed to return home.

“The barred departure of diplomats and their family members was a grave and unacceptable breach of the Vienna Convention,” the embassy said.

“We support Malaysia’s expressed intent to continue investigation into serious crimes committed on its territory; all possible measures must be taken to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice.” 

On Friday, foreign minister Anifah confirmed the body was on its way back to North Korea after being kept in a hospital morgue in Kuala Lumpur for more than six weeks.

Chinese and Malaysian media reported it was put on board a Malaysian Airlines plane bound for Beijing at 7.39pm on Thursday and an AFP photographer saw a North Korean embassy van and officials leaving Beijing airport early Friday morning.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported on Friday Kim’s body was expected to leave for Pyongyang on an Air Koryo flight as early as on Saturday.

South Korea has blamed Pyongyang for the Cold War-style killing, citing what they say was a standing order from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un to murder his exiled and estranged half-brother.

But the North denies this and denounced Malaysia’s investigation into the death as an attempt to smear the secretive regime. It had insisted that the man died of a heart attack and his body should be handed over to Pyongyang.


Analysts said the North Korean regime may use Kim’s body as a “propaganda tool”. “They will likely use the body to claim they were not responsible and tell an alternative narrative,” said Bridget Welsh, an expert on Southeast Asian politics.

Pyongyang has refused to confirm the identity of the victim, who was carrying a North Korean passport bearing the name of Kim Chol when he was killed. Malaysia however has officially confirmed his identity using DNA evidence.

There are fears Kim’s 21-year-old son, Kim Han Sol, could be targeted next.

Two women – one Vietnamese and one Indonesian – have been arrested and charged with the murder. Airport CCTV footage shows them approaching the 45-year-old victim and apparently smearing his face with a piece of cloth.

Malaysian investigators are also seeking seven North Korean suspects, four of whom left Malaysia on the day of the murder.

Interpol has issued an international arrest warrant for the four men and they were still on Interpol’s list of those wanted for murder as of Friday.

Japanese media on board the MH360 plane to Beijing said two of the three other suspects were on board the plane that carried the remains of Kim. It was still unclear what happened to the third suspect.

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Malaysians stranded in North Korea on their way home: Najib

KUALA LUMPUR: Nine Malaysians who had been stranded in North Korea for three weeks have left Pyongyang and are expected to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at about 5am on Friday (Mar 31), Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Thursday evening.

Their flight took off at 7.45pm Malaysian time, he said. Channel NewsAsia understands the Malaysians will be flying home escorted by the Royal Malaysian Air Force. 

The Malaysians have been barred from leaving North Korea since Mar 7 amid a row over the killing of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13. North Korean diplomats and embassy officials in Malaysia were also barred from leaving the country in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat move.  

In his statement on Thursday, Mr Najib said the Malaysian government “worked intensively behind the scenes to achieve this successful outcome”. “Many challenges were overcome to ensure the return of our fellow Malaysians. The safety and security of our citizens will always be my first priority,” he added.

Mr Najib said North Koreans in Malaysia are now free to leave the country. 

He also said the coroner has approved the release of Kim’s body, “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”. 

Earlier on Thursday, local media reported that a van carrying Kim’s embalmed body was seen entering MASkargo at KLIA around 3pm and that it was due to arrive in Beijing. 

Four North Koreans are also believed to be departing the Malaysian capital, reports said. A source told Channel NewsAsia they include two men wanted for Kim’s murder.

A van believed to be carrying the body of Kim Jong Nam leaves the Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo: Kyodo/via Reuters)

Mr Najib had earlier said the country was in “sensitive talks” with North Korea. 

On Thursday, he said: “The government believes strongly in the principles of justice and sovereignty. Our police investigation into this serious crime on Malaysian soil will continue. I have instructed for all possible measures to be taken to bring those responsible for this murder to justice.”

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BALI LUXURY VILLA TOUR! Whats up guys! We haven’t uploaded for a few days because we’ve been busy exploring seminyak and the rest of Bali’s beauty, we also had a little run in with the local police.. But don’t worry we’ve got lot’s more Bali videos to come. Check out the new villa we’re staying in and let us know what you think of the vlog. LOVE YOU ALL

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ASIA'S FUTURE CITIES: Cambodian start-up introduces anti-pollution masks

PHNOM PENH: Every day, millions of people in Phnom Penh fill their lungs with bad air.

Whenever they breathe – roughly about 30,000 times a day for an adult – their respiratory system becomes exposed to harmful pollutants hovering over the city.

Some of them can be felt or smelled, but many are so fine they can reach the deepest parts of the lungs undetected and have the potential to cause premature death.

“It’s like you eat the same poison every single day; you don’t feel it now but you will later,” said Veasna Srey, a Cambodian-born French from Toulouse who repatriated to Phnom Penh last year.

During the first few months after his return, Veasna struggled to breathe and his partner suffered from bronchitis, an inflammation of the air passages. Their symptoms were a result of prolonged exposure to air pollutants in Phnom Penh, from toxic gases like carbon monoxide to small particles such as PM2.5 – one of the deadliest forms of air pollution.

A PM2.5 is tiny. It has a diametre of less than 2.5 micrometres or about 3 per cent the diametre of a human hair. This means it can penetrate deep inside the lungs, where it either remains for long periods or passes into the blood stream unfiltered. Long-term exposure to these particles can result in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cancers.

A lot of them fill Phnom Penh’s air but only a handful of millions of its residents know they exist. So when Veasna searched for an anti-pollution mask that can filter these harmful particles in the city last year, he found none.

“I only found surgical masks but they’re not the same. It’s like using a cap instead of a helmet. So, I decided to import anti-pollution masks with proper filters from abroad.”

PM2.5 particles have a diametre of less than 2.5 micrometres or about 3 per cent the diametre of a human hair. (Photo: United States Environmental Protection Agency)

As it turned out, the bad air has created a window of opportunity for the couple. Their fruitless search for effective anti-pollution masks made them realise there was none in the polluted city, and subsequently drove them to provide some for local Cambodians.

Still, the high cost of imported masks – more than US$50 apiece – means many people will never be able to afford the protection.

“So I researched about air pollution and started making the masks from scratch,” Veasna told Channel NewsAsia.

His Cambodian start-up KamasK came up with two affordable designs he now sells for US$8 and US$10. One of them can trap fine PM2.5 such as combustion particles, organic compounds and metals, while the other can capture PM0.1 – even finer particles.

Anti-pollution masks produced by Veasna can trap ultrafine airborne particles. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

They are the first of their kind to be made by a Cambodian company, according to Veasna. The filter contains carbon active charcoal and micro fibres that can be worn for 70 hours, and cost an additional US$6-7 for a pack of three.

“Our goal is to make them cheap for Cambodians. I might have grown up in France but I was born Cambodian. So I want to help Cambodians protect themselves,” Veasna said.

“I plan to make them even cheaper when we can produce more.”


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average annual concentrations of PM2.5 in a city should not exceed 10 microgrammes per cubic metre of air (μg/m3).

In the Cambodian capital, however, WHO’s data shows they can go up to 25 μg/m3 annually. And of 180 countries worldwide, its air quality ranks 148th in the Environmental Performance Index, indicative of a gradual downward trend over the past decade.

Grime built up on a building in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Cambodia’s air pollution may seem worrisome but for its own government, it is not a major concern.

Based on the national air quality standard set by the government itself, levels of dust and air pollution in Phnom Penh are not considered unhealthy.

“Air pollution in Phnom Penh has increased but the level is still acceptable,” said Thiv Sophearith, director of the Environment Ministry’s Air Quality and Noise Management Department.

But for many of its residents, it is not good enough. On the street, many riders wear masks to stop airborne pollutants from entering their lungs. However, most of them are surgical masks, which are not designed to filter fine particles such as PM2.5.

And as the city presses ahead with fast paced development, with more construction and pollutants in the air, there are increasing risks of worsening air quality and subsequent impacts on public health.

Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 air pollutants can result in respiratory diseases and premature death. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

According to WHO, about 92 per cent of the global population is breathing polluted air and Southeast Asia is one of the regions with the highest air pollution levels in the world.

In 2012, air pollution contributed to 6.5 million deaths worldwide, including 7,000 in Cambodia. Some of the main causes included industrial activities, household fuel and waste burning, and inefficient modes of transport.

“What we’re mostly concerned about is vehicles because they’ve increased very fast. It’s the biggest challenge we’re facing,” Sophearith told Channel NewsAsia, adding the environment ministry will work with the transport ministry in monitoring and minimising pollution caused by transportation.

But until actions are implemented, the residents of Phnom Penh may need to rely on whatever masks they can afford.

“Masks are not the solution to air pollution,” Veasna said. “They’re like life jackets to help people save themselves.”

Follow Pichayada Promchertchoo on Twitter @PichayadaCNA

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Singapore's first Zika cluster of 2017 reported at Simon Place

SINGAPORE: Two cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infections have been confirmed at Simon Place in Hougang, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Wednesday (Mar 29).

This is the first Zika cluster reported in Singapore this year.

Both cases are residents from the same household, NEA added in a media release.

The Zika cluster was confirmed on Tuesday and vector control operations are being carried out in the area.

“As of Mar 29, NEA has inspected about 120 premises out of about 400 premises in the Simon Place cluster to check for mosquito breeding and also conducted ground checks in the vicinity,” said the agency.

“Ten breeding habitats – comprising seven in homes and three in common areas/other premises – have been detected and destroyed.”

The location of the active Zika cluster at Simon Place. (Image: NEA)

NEA added that it has carried out indoor spraying of insecticides, as well as thermal fogging and misting in the outdoor areas. In addition, outreach efforts are being conducted by NEA officers and grassroots volunteers in the area to distribute Zika information leaflets and insect repellent to households.

NEA also urged residents to allow officers to carry out inspections and indoor spraying of residents’ homes if required. 

Most people infected with the Zika virus do not develop symptoms, which heightens the risk of a Zika resurgence as it may take some time before a reintroduced Zika virus is detected. With the presence of the Aedes mosquito vector here, everyone must therefore continue to maintain vigilance and play his part to prevent future localised transmission through eradicating mosquito breeding habitats in our neighbourhoods,” said NEA.

Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Lim also urged residents to cooperate with NEA’s operations. “I urge all residents to cooperate fully and to exercise personal vigilance to prevent the spread of Zika, including using repellent and preventing breeding,” the Aljunied GRC MP wrote on her Facebook page.  

Singapore’s first confirmed locally transmitted case of Zika was first announced on Aug 26, 2016. As of Dec 21, 2016, 17 pregnant women were confirmed to have contracted Zika. The disease has been linked to microcephaly in other countries.

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Nigeria’s real estate sector suffers as luxury houses stand vacant

Nigeria’s real estate sector is going through a tough time as the country grapples with a recession, and a sharply devalued currency. If there’s one city that’s taken a direct hit, it’s Lagos, the commercial capital. The number of vacant houses, especially at the higher end of the market, has risen sharply over the past year, as Deji Badmus, reports.