Malaysian police were able to confirm the identity of Kim Jong Nam, who was killed last month at Kuala Lumpur’s airport, using a DNA sample from one of his children, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Wednesday.
Zahid also said negotiations began Monday to resolve a diplomatic standoff over the death of Kim, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader.
Malaysian authorities say Kim was killed Feb. 13 when two women smeared his face with the banned nerve agent VX in a crowded airport terminal. He was carrying a passport bearing the name Kim Chol. Police said last week they had confirmed he was Kim Jong Nam, but refused to say how.
North Korea — widely suspected of being behind the attack — has rejected the autopsy findings.
Zahid said police “confirmed that the identity of the body is Kim Jong Nam based on the sample taken from his child.” He didn’t say when and where the DNA sample was taken.
Officials say the body has been embalmed to better preserve it and that Kim’s relatives will be given two to three weeks to claim it.
Relations between Malaysia and North Korea have deteriorated sharply since Kim’s death, with each expelling the other’s ambassador. Last Tuesday, North Korea blocked all Malaysians from leaving the country until a “fair settlement” of the case is reached. Malaysia then barred North Koreans from exiting its soil. The two countries have also scrapped visa-free travel for each other’s citizens.
Four of the seven North Korean suspects being sought by Malaysia are believed to have left the country on the day Kim was killed. Police say the other three, including a North Korean diplomat and an employee of Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline, are believed to be in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Zahid said formal talks are ongoing at the “secretary-general level” and that Malaysia is keeping an “open heart and open mind” in the negotiations.
Asked if Malaysia will exchange the Korean suspects believed to be hiding in the embassy for the Malaysians in Pyongyang, he said “we are looking at all possibilities.”
There are nine Malaysians in North Korea — three embassy staff members and their family members. About 315 North Koreans are in Malaysia.
Zahid also brushed off calls by North Korea for an international inquiry over the use of VX in Kim’s death, saying the North has shown that it doesn’t respect decisions made by international bodies in reference to its nuclear program.
Although Malaysia has never directly accused North Korea of being behind the attack, many speculate that it must have orchestrated it.
Experts say the VX nerve agent used to kill Kim was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory, and North Korea is widely believed to possess large quantities of chemical weapons.