The United States on Wednesday joined Malaysia and South Korea in blaming North Korea for assassinating the half-brother of Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Un at a Kuala Lumpur area airport last month.
Outgoing U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel openly condemned Pyongyang for the assassination of Kim Jong Nam. His condemnation came a day after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak became the first official from his government to publicly accuse North Korea of being behind the fatal poisoning with a banned nerve agent.
"The hijacking of the territory of a country by a foreign power for the purpose of murder – for the purpose of political assassination is reprehensible,” Russel said Wednesday during a farewell conference call from Washington with reporters in Asia, referring to Kim’s murder.
Until the phone interview, no American official had made such an on-the-record accusation. Russel also praised Malaysian authorities for their professionalism in conducting an impressive investigation into the case where diplomatic tensions between Malaysia and North Korea have risen sharply in recent days.
“We have not taken any negative action against North Korea. What we are facing now is the result of their action in assassinating their own citizen in Malaysia, on Malaysian soil, using a strictly banned chemical weapon,” the Malaysian state-run news service Bernama quoted Najib as telling reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday.
Malaysian police have charged two Southeast Asian women with Kim’s murder and have identified at least seven North Korean citizens as suspects in his killing, including a second secretary stationed at Pyongyang’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Najib was speaking before he flew back to Kuala Lumpur to convene an emergency meeting of Malaysia’s National Security Council over an escalating diplomatic crisis with North Korea.
Amid diplomatic fallout from the case, both countries have expelled their respective ambassadors and, earlier on Tuesday, Pyongyang barred Malaysian citizens from leaving North Korea. Malaysia reciprocated by imposing a similar exit ban on North Korean citizens in Malaysian territory.
On Wednesday, 11 Malaysian citizens were said to be stuck in North Korea, while officials in the eastern Malaysian state of Sarawak announced immigration officials the day before had detained 140 North Korean migrants because of expired work permits. The migrants work in the local coal mining and construction industries.
The 11 Malaysians in North Korea were “safe and able to continue with their daily routines,” Najib said in a blog post on his website Wednesday. He pledged that his government would do all it could to bring them home safely.
Victim’s family in hiding?
The diplomatic feud between the two Asian countries, which have maintained diplomatic ties for 44 years, stemmed from Malaysia’s refusal to release Kim Jong Nam’s body unless his next-of-kin came forward to claim the remains and provide investigators with DNA needed for a positive identification.
Najib pointed out Wednesday that “no one has come forward, perhaps out of fear,” according to Bernama.
But on the same day, a video of a young man claiming to be Kim Han Sol, the dead man’s son, emerged when a South Korean group posted it online. Kim Jong Nam, the older half-sibling of Kim Jong Un, had been living with family in exile in Macau.
“My name is Kim Han Sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family. … My father has been killed a few days ago. I am currently with my mother and my sister, and we are very grateful. … We hope this gets better soon,” the young man said in the undated video clip, which was redacted in parts and during which he held up his passport.
Cheollima Civil Defense, the group responsible for the video, claimed to look after North Korean citizens who seek protection. On its website, the group said it received “an emergency request by survivors of the family of Kim Jong Nam for extraction and protection.”
“The three family members were met quickly and relocated to safety,” the group said.
It also expressed its gratitude to the governments of the Netherlands, China, the United States and an unidentified fourth country for helping provide Kim’s family with “emergency humanitarian assistance.”
An official with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service – which, in the immediate aftermath of Kim’s murder, alleged North Korean agents had poisoned him fatally – confirmed to Reuters news agency the young man in the video was Kim Han Sol.
On Wednesday, BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, contacted the Dutch, Chinese and U.S. embassies in Kuala Lumpur but their spokesmen declined to comment about the video.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.