Three North Koreans wanted for questioning over the murder of the estranged half-brother of their country’s leader returned home on Friday along with the body of victim Kim Jong Nam after Malaysia agreed a swap deal with the reclusive state.
Malaysian police investigating what U.S. and South Korean officials say was an assassination carried out by North Korean agents took statements from the three before they were allowed to leave the country.
Angered by the Malaysian probe, North Korea had ordered a travel ban on Malaysians, trapping three diplomats and six family members–including four children–in Pyongyang.
Malaysia, which previously had friendly ties with the unpredictable nuclear-armed state, responded with a ban of its own, but was left with little option but to accede to the North’s demands for the return of the body and safe passage for the three nationals hiding in the embassy. Malaysian authorities released Kim’s body on Thursday in a deal that secured the release of nine Malaysian citizens held in Pyongyang after a drawn out diplomatic spat.
“It is a win (for North Korea), clearly,” Andrei Lankov, North Korea expert at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said on the swap deal. “I presume the Malaysians decided not to get too involved in a remote country’s palace intrigues, and wanted their hostages back.”
Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of the North’s young, unpredictable leader Kim Jong Un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on Feb. 13 in a bizarre assassination using VX nerve agent, a chemical so lethal the U.N. has listed it as a weapon of mass destruction.