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Impasse over corpse continues

Malaysia waits for one of Kim Jong-nam’s relatives to claim body
Feb 22,2017
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Special Task Force on Organized Crime police stand guard in front of the National Forensic Institute at Kuala Lumpur Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday. [AP/YONHAP]
The police presence at Hospital Kuala Lumpur, where the corpse of Kim Jong-nam remains, escalated Tuesday after rumors spread that his son arrived in the Malaysian capital to claim his father’s body and provide samples for a DNA test.

The Star, a media outlet in Malaysia, reported that four vehicles from the police’s special task force on organized crime were seen leaving the hospital at around 10:20 a.m. Tuesday after spending almost nine hours there.

Malaysian police downplayed media reports that they were trying to fortify the area in order to protect Kim Jong-nam’s son, saying it had “nothing to do with that,” according to The Star.

A senior police officer was quoted as saying authorities were simply “concerned because this involved a high-profile case.”

A media frenzy broke out at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Monday evening after reporters were tipped off by an unidentified source that Kim Han-sol was scheduled to arrive from Macau at 7:32 p.m. on an AirAsia AK8321 flight.

But there was no spotting of the 22-year-old son, leaving journalists to wonder whether he was escorted out through a private exit.

When asked about the speculation Tuesday, Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean relations, refused to comment.

Kim Han-sol is the oldest son of Kim Jong-nam, himself the oldest son of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and half brother of current leader Kim Jong-un. Kim Han-sol’s mother is Ri Hye-kyong, Kim Jong-nam’s second wife.

The couple also have a daughter named Kim Sol-hui, who is younger than Kim Han-sol. The family lives in Macau.

Kim Jong-nam’s first wife and daughter reportedly live in Beijing. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said last week that both families were under the protection of the Chinese government.

The arrival of Kim Han-sol would come at a significant time, as Malaysia and North Korea continue a tug-of-war over Kim Jong-nam’s corpse.

North Korea wants to repatriate it but Malaysia has called for a family member to come forward for a DNA test, a prerequisite for them to confirm the identity and release the body.

North Korea’s ambassador in Kuala Lumpur accused Malaysia Friday of “trying to conceal something” and “colluding and playing into the gallery of external forces” to “besmirch the image” of North Korea by politicizing the incident.

He urged Malaysia not to perform an autopsy and hand over the body, both of which Malaysian police refused to do.

The ambassador, Kang Chol, was summoned by Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Monday to be scolded for “baseless” complaints. Malaysia’s ambassador to Pyongyang was recalled to Kuala Lumpur for “consultations,” said the ministry.

A second chapter in the row between the two countries began Monday evening when Ambassador Kang stood in front of an army of journalists outside his embassy and urged Pyongyang to be included in Malaysia’s investigations, which Malaysia later flatly rejected.

Despite an autopsy being conducted on Kim Jong-nam, health authorities have yet to figure out what caused his death, officials at Hospital Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday in their first press briefing.

A timeline on when the results would be released was not given; the hospital said there were no signs he died of a heart attack or an external force.

Meanwhile, South Korean government sources told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, Tuesday that the 29-year-old Vietnamese suspect arrested in the assassination of Kim Jong-nam appears to have landed in South Korea on Nov. 2 and “spent several days shopping and touring.”

The officials said they were trying to figure out whether the 25-year-old Indonesian suspect, who was arrested by Malaysian police last week, had also come here.

Another South Korean intelligence source told the paper that Seoul authorities helped their Malaysian counterparts confirm that the dead man was Kim Jong-nam by informing them that Kim had a dragon tattoo on his back.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]