Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET on 2017-02-20
Malaysia recalled its ambassador to North Korea on Monday and traded angry words with Pyongyang, amid rising bilateral tensions over Kuala Lumpur’s refusal to release the body of Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother following his apparent assassination in Malaysia a week ago.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry also summoned the North Korean envoy to explain his recent criticism of the Malaysian government, but Ambassador Kang Chol issued a fresh attack, demanding a joint investigation into the death which he claimed had been politicized.
“To date we have been respecting the Malaysian police and waiting with patience for the fair and accurate investigation result. On the contrary, they pinned the suspicion on us and targeted the investigation against us,” said a five-page statement read by Kang Chol outside the North Korean embassy shortly after he answered the summons.
“As far as all the happenings clearly show that this incident is politicized by Malaysian in collusion with the South Korea, we officially inform the international community that we suggest the joint investigation on this incident for its clear clarification.”
As the diplomatic feud escalated, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman spoke out late Monday, saying the North Korean allegations were “culled from delusions, lies and half-truths,” and that police were conducting an impartial investigation.
“Any suggestion to the contrary is deeply insulting to Malaysia, as is the suggestion that Malaysia is in collusion with any foreign government,” Aman added.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak commented on the issue for the first time, defending the professionalism of the national police. “We have no reason why we would want to do something that paints the North Koreans in a bad light,” Najib said.
“But we will be objective and we expect them to understand that we apply the rule of law in Malaysia,” Najib said, as quoted by the New Straits Times, a Malaysian news outlet.
“The Malaysian Government takes very seriously any unfounded attempt to tarnish its reputation,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement earlier Monday.
“The Malaysian Ambassador in Pyongyang has been recalled to Kuala Lumpur for consultations.”
‘A false remark’
A man whom Malaysian officials have identified as Kim Jong-Nam died en route to hospital on Feb. 13 after reportedly telling medical personnel that a woman had attacked him with a chemical spray at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
Malaysian officials have repeatedly stated that they would identify a cause of death and hand the deceased man’s body to the next of kin “in accordance with existing Malaysian laws and procedures.”
Malaysia is among a small list of countries with close relations with the communist regime in Pyongyang, which is under global sanctions over its illegal nuclear weapons drives and ballistic missile launches, the latest of which took place on Feb. 12.
South Korea has blamed North Korea for Kim’s death, citing a “standing order” from leader Kim Jong-Un to kill his older sibling and a failed assassination bid in 2012 after his half-brother criticized the regime.
Malaysia has four suspects in custody but announced Sunday that four North Korean men wanted in connection with the killing had left Malaysia the day it happened.
In his statement read out to reporters Monday, Kang Chol said, “we cannot trust the investigation by the Malaysian police.”
He also accused Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi of making a “false remark” when he identified the dead man as the elder half-brother of Kim Jong-Un. The ambassador’s statement, however, did not mention Kim Jong-Nam by name.
“In the morning on 18th February, we submitted the official document that we did not know any other name except Kim Chol as written in the passport to the Malaysian police side in the Embassy. Then how could the deputy prime minister make a false remark one day before our submission?” the statement said.
On Feb. 17, Zahid confirmed that the man allegedly assassinated at the airport was Kim Jong-Nam.
“His identity was confirmed from the passport that we compared with the document issued by the Embassy of North Korea and by the identity issued by the embassy,” Malaysian state news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.
Malaysian officials had yet to release an autopsy report stating the cause of death. Results of pathology and toxicology tests are still pending, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim told a press conference on Sunday.
“At the moment, I cannot say the cause of death,” he said. But he confirmed that police were treating the incident as a murder case.
He said Malaysian police were looking for Kim’s next-of-kin to identify the body and gave relatives two weeks to come forward.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.