March 13, 2017 11:21
North Korea in a bizarre twist to the assassination of Kim Jong-nam has offered to swap nine Malaysian hostages in Pyongyang for two North Korean suspects who are stuck in Kuala Lumpur.
According to the Oriental Daily News in Malaysia on Saturday, the North made the offer in unofficial negotiations with a Malaysian diplomat in Pyongyang over the Feb. 13 killing of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Malaysian police have fingered Hyon Kwang-song, a North Korean diplomat, and Kim Uk-il, a staffer of the North's flag carrier Air Koryo, in the very public hit on Kim Jon-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The two are believed to be holed up in the North Korean Embassy.
North Korea has effectively taken all 11 Malaysian citizens in Pyongyang hostage by banning them from leaving. They are embassy staff and their families and UN workers.
Malaysia retaliated by banning the more than 1,000 North Koreans in the country from leaving and starting a crackdown on illegal North Korean workers who earn valuta for their regime.
But the Malaysian government is reluctant to let Hyon and Kim leave after it already had to release and deport Ri Jong-chol, the only North Korean suspect in the hit who had been arrested, due to a lack of evidence. Four other North Korean suspects fled to Pyongyang immediately after the hit, and Kuala Lumpur now fears a dead end in its investigation.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman told reporters that Kuala Lumpur will soon hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang over the killing.
Meanwhile, an Indonesian government official told NHK that one of the four North Korean suspects who fled, O Jong-gil, seems to have been the second secretary in the North Korean Embassy in Jakarta. That makes two North Korean diplomats on the list of suspects, bolstering evidence that the North Korean regime was behind the hit on Kim Jong-nam.
Malaysian police on Friday said they have finally confirmed that the man assassinated last month was indeed Kim Jong-nam. Khalid Abu Bakar, the chief of Malaysian police, told reporters that police confirmed Kim's identity "through all necessary procedures," but declined to say whether they managed to get hold of the DNA of family members.
The motive for the hit remains unclear, but there are rumors that Kim Jong-un feared the Chinese could install his half-brother as a figurehead in a possible overthrow of his shaky rule.
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