Kim Jong-nam: Malaysians held in North Korea return home


Among those who have returned include Malaysia’s counsellor to North Korea, Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain (centre)

Nine Malaysians who were detained in North Korea have arrived home, after the two countries apparently struck a deal to end a diplomatic row.

The quarrel, over last month’s killing of Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur, had resulted in both countries banning each other’s citizens from leaving.

Malaysia has now allowed North Koreans to leave and released Mr Kim’s body.

There is widespread suspicion that Pyongyang was responsible for orchestrating Mr Kim’s murder.

The BBC’s South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head says that Malaysia appears to have acceded to North Korea’s wishes to get the Malaysians released.

It had earlier reacted angrily to the travel ban which was first imposed by Pyongyang, and denounced North Korea for holding Malaysian citizens hostage.

But on Friday morning Malaysia’s foreign minister Anifah Aman, who received the returning Malaysians at the airport, told reporters: "There can be no substitute for diplomacy, for level-headedness in dealing with such situations, and this has served Malaysia well in this instance."

Malaysia’s foreign minister Anifan Aman (centre, in dark pink coat) received the returning Malaysians at Kuala Lumpur’s airport

Mr Kim’s body was released to North Korea and flown to Beijing early on Friday, where North Korean officials are expected to receive the body.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said after challenging negotiations, that all North Koreans would be allowed to leave Malaysia – which likely includes suspects in the murder who are wanted by Malaysian police.

North Korean and Chinese officials were seen at Beijing airport after the plane carrying Mr Kim’s body landed early on Friday

The nine Malaysian nationals were met by their relatives and a large media contingent at Kuala Lumpur airport early on Friday.

Those who have returned include the country’s counsellor to North Korea, Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, embassy staff, and their families.

The counsellor said that when Pyongyang told them they could not leave North Korea, "we were very concerned especially since we had committed no wrong".

But he added they were "not particularly harassed" by North Korean authorities. "We were given the assurance that life could go on as normal," he said.

They were flown home in a business jet plane piloted by members of the Malaysian air force.