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North Korea, Malaysia at Odds Over Death of Kim Jong Un’s Brother

Diplomatic tensions are rising between North Korea and Malaysia in the aftermath of the apparent assassination of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

Kuala Lumpur has recalled its ambassador to Pyongyang for “consultations” after North Korea’s envoy to Malaysia, Kang Chol, lashed out at Malaysia after officials rejected the North’s demands to release Kim Jon Nam’s body, and to allow a representative from the North Korean embassy to be present at the autopsy. 

Kang Chol was summoned by Malaysia’s foreign ministry Monday after he accused Malaysia of “trying to conceal something,” and of “colluding and playing into the gallery of external forces.”  The foreign ministry dismissed the ambassador’s claims as “baseless.” 

The 45-year-old Kim Jong Nam died en route to a hospital last Monday after he was reportedly accosted and poisoned by two women at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport while waiting to take a Macau-bound flight, according to Malaysian and South Korean officials.  

Japanese broadcaster Fuji TV aired footage Monday taken by the airport’s security cameras that reportedly depicts the fatal assault on Kim.  After he was accosted, Kim is shown seeking help from airport workers while gesturing at his eyes.  

Four people have been detained in connection with the crime, including the two suspected assailants and a North Korean national, who was arrested Friday. Investigators are also seeking four North Korean men who flew out of Malaysia on the day of Kim’s death.  

Kim Jong Nam was once considered the heir apparent to lead North Korea, but he fell out of favor with his father Kim Jong Il after a failed 2001 attempt to enter Japan on a forged passport to visit Disneyland, and was basically exiled to the Chinese controlled territory of Macau. 

South Korea’s spy agency says Kim Jong Un issued a “standing order” for his half-brother’s assassination after taking power, and there was a failed attempt in 2012. 

Kim Jong Nam was reportedly considered a threat to his half-brother’s rule because of his outspoken criticism of the authoritarian regime. 

There has been speculation that China is getting tired of North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests in defiance on international sanctions and that the apparent assassination of Kim John Nam may have led to the Chinese decision Saturday to suspend all coal imports from the North.  Coal exports are a vital source of revenue for the Pyongyang government.

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