Flight from diplomacy: 3 weeks after airport death


PETALING JAYA: Three weeks seem like forever in international diplomacy, as shown in the ongoing war of words between Malaysia and North Korea.

What started as the death of a “North Korean citizen” on Feb 13 now threatens to become one of Malaysia’s worst diplomatic standoffs since the “Konfrontasi” with Indonesia five decades ago.

The following are key events since the death of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Feb 13: Kim Jong Nam, son of North Korea’s late supreme leader, Kim Jong Il and half-brother of the current dictator, pronounced dead on the way to hospital after he was attacked at klia2 while awaiting a flight to Macau.

Feb 14: News breaks of Jong Nam’s death. Police describe incident as “sudden death” pending post-mortem results.

Feb 15: Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar says police arrested a Vietnamese, Doan Thi Huong based on CCTV recording, as well as local Muhammad Farid Jalaluddin.

Feb 16: Police arrest Indonesian, Siti Aisyah. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirms Jong Nam’s identity.

Feb 17: Pyongyang requests return of Jong Nam’s body. North Korean national Ri Jong Chol arrested. Siti Aisyah tells police she thought she was participating in a prank for a TV show.

Feb 18: North Korean ambassador Kang Chol rejects autopsy on Jong Nam, and accuses Malaysian authorities of colluding with hostile forces. Khalid says no permission needed from North Korea to conduct autopsy.

Feb 19: Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Rashid Ibrahim says authorities looking for four North Korean suspects.

Feb 20: Kang summoned over his comments, Malaysia recalls its ambassador Mohamed Nizan Mohamed. CCTV footage showing moments leading to Jong Nam’s death goes viral.

Feb 21: Health ministry says Jong Nam did not die from heart attack. Prime Minister Najib Razak says Kang was “diplomatically rude”.

Feb 22: Police hunt for seven North Koreans in murder probe. Khalid says four suspects fled Malaysia the day Jong Nam died.

Feb 24: Autopsy finds traces of VX nerve agent, a chemical substance banned by the United Nations. Zahid instructs assessment of diplomatic ties with North Korea.

March 1: Two women seen in CCTV recording attacking Jong Nam at klia2 charged with murder.

March 2: Malaysia revokes visa-free travel for North Koreans.

March 3: North Korean suspect Jong Chol released and deported due to insufficient evidence. The next day, Jong Chol accuses Malaysia of forcing a confession from him.

March 4: Malaysia declares ambassador Kang “persona non grata”. Kang told to leave within 48 hours.

March 5: In tit for tat, North Korea declares Malaysian ambassador “persona non grata”.

March 6: Kang leaves embassy in Bukit Damansara, boards MAS flight to Beijing.

March 7: North Korea says it will not allow 11-odd Malaysian citizens to leave the country. Malaysia retaliates by saying North Korean embassy staff will be barred. Police say suspects still hiding in embassy.