The body of the assassinated half-brother of North Korea’s leader remains at a Kuala Lumpur hospital and authorities are still waiting for relatives to claim it despite reports of its removal from the facility’s morgue, Malaysia’s health minister said Tuesday.
Minister S. Subramaniam dismissed Malaysian news reports that Kim Jong Nam’s corpse had been removed from the morgue at Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) over the weekend. Kim’s remains have not been cremated or claimed by his next-of-kin, Subramaniam told reporters.
According to a report by the New Straits Times newspaper, his body had been taken to a local funeral parlor from the National Forensic Institute at Kuala Lumpur Hospital for a “religious rite.”
“There has been so much speculation on the whereabouts of the body ... as far as I know, the body has always been in HKL,” the health minister said.
“Whether it was given to another group, the answer is no,” he added.
Questions about what will happen with Kim’s body are at the center of a bilateral row between North Korea and Malaysia that has flared since he died in a poison-attack at a Kuala Lumpur area airport six weeks ago, according to Malaysian police.
The dispute began when Malaysia refused to hand over his remains to North Korean officials without a post-mortem. Both countries have expelled their respective ambassadors and imposed exit bans on each other’s citizens.
Officials from both countries were now trying to negotiate a solution to the impasse, Subramaniam indicated. A source close to the talks, but who declined to be identified, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, that negotiations were under way in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is trying to secure the release of nine Malaysian citizens, including three staffers at Kuala Lumpur’s embassy in Pyongyang, who have been stuck in North Korea as a result of the exit ban.
Back on March 15, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said Malaysia was “looking at all possibilities,” including handing over Kim’s body to North Korea in exchange for the release of the nine citizens in Pyongyang.
Subramaniam said Tuesday that his ministry was awaiting instructions from Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We need to wait for the results from the discussions before we can make any decision on what to do with the body,” he told reporters.
“When they conclude the discussions and come to a decision, we will make an announcement,” he said.
Subramaniam denied that Kim’s body had been cremated on Sunday, saying this could only have been done with the agreement of involved parties after the ministry had waited for Kim’s next-of-kin to claim the remains.
“But, unfortunately, they have not come forward to provide any assistance on how the body should be treated, and now the Foreign Ministry is trying to find a solution how to move forward,” Subramaniam said, referring to Kim’s next-of-kin.
Cops visit embassy
Kim Jong Nam, the older half-sibling of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, was fatally poisoned with a banned nerve agent while preparing to board a flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb. 13, according to police.
Two Southeast Asian women have been arrested and charged with his murder as co-assassins, and at least seven North Korean nationals have been identified by Malaysian police as wanted for questioning in the case. Malaysia’s prime minister has accused North Korean government agents of being behind the assassination.
Four of the North Korean suspects, who were spotted by a CCTV camera at the airport on the day of the assassination, fled Malaysia later on Feb. 13, police said. Three other suspects, including a second secretary at the North Korean embassy, are still believed to be hiding out there.
On Sunday, four plainclothes officers from the Malaysian police’s Special Branch entered the embassy’s compound for the first time since the dispute began last month, according to a report by the state-run Bernama news service.
However, the report did not specify what the officers did during their three hours inside the compound. Efforts by BenarNews on Tuesday to contact officials for an explanation of the weekend visit by the Special Branch officers were unsuccessful.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.