Malaysia condemns use of VX at airport; prepares to deport North Korean


 Reuters International

North Korean suspect in Kim Jong Nam murder, Ri Jong Chol, leaves a Sepang police station to be deported, in Malaysia March 3, 2017, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

(reuters_tickers)

By Praveen Menon and Angie Teo

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia condemned the use of VX, the super toxic nerve agent that killed the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a Kuala Lumpur airport last month, as authorities on Friday prepared to deport a North Korean suspect.

Kim Jong Nam was murdered on Feb. 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he was assaulted by two women who allegedly smeared his face with VX, a chemical classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.

"The Ministry strongly condemns the use of such a chemical weapon by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances. Its use at a public place could have endangered the general public," the Malaysian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it was in close contact with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an inter-governmental organisation based in the Netherlands, regarding the incident.

"Malaysia does not produce, stockpile, import, export or use any Schedule 1 toxic chemicals including VX, and has made annual declarations to that effect to the OPCW," the statement said.

Relations between Malaysia and North Korea, who have maintained friendly ties for decades, have soured since the killing of Kim Jong Nam at the airport two weeks ago.

North Korea's envoy to Malaysia has said earlier that police investigations in the case cannot be trusted. North Korea has not accepted that the dead man is Kim Jong Nam, and said on Thursday that its citizen may have died of a heart attack.

South Korean intelligence and U.S. officials say the murder was an assassination organised by North Korean agents, though the only suspects charged in the case so far are an Indonesian woman and a Vietnamese woman.

DEPORTING

Kim Jong Nam was waiting at the departure hall of the airport when he was assaulted by two women, a Vietnamese and an Indonesian, who wiped his face with a liquid, identified by an autopsy as VX. He died within 20 minutes of the attack.

Both women were charged with murder earlier this week. They have told diplomats from their home countries that they thought they were participating in a prank for reality television.

Another North Korean suspect, who was arrested on Feb 18 over the killing was released from a detention centre on Friday, and driven away in a police convoy, a Reuters witness said.

Ri Jong Chol, who had been detained a few days after the killing was taken to the immigration office wearing a bullet proof vest to prepare his deportation to North Korea.

Malaysia's attorney-general told Reuters on Thursday that he would be released due to insufficient evidence.

Police have identified seven other North Koreans wanted in connection with the killing, including a senior embassy official in Kuala Lumpur. Four of them have left the country and are believed to be in Pyongyang.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL; writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Reuters

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