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Malaysia officials: North Korean leader’s estranged half-brother slain in Kuala Lumpur

Kim Jong Nam, half-brother to North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, was assassinated in Malaysia on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, according to reports.

JOONGANG SUNDAY VIA JOONGANG ILBO, SHIN IN-SEOP/AP

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 14, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — The older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was assassinated Monday at Kuala Lumpur airport, telling medical workers before he died that he had been attacked by a chemical spray, a Malaysian official told The Associated Press.

Kim Jong Nam, 46, was attacked in the airport shopping area while waiting for a flight to Macau, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. South Korean media, quoting government sources in Seoul, said the assailants were two women who escaped.

Kim was pronounced dead en route to a hospital, the reports said. South Korean media reports said the assailants were believed to be North Korean agents.

The reported death came ahead of planned birthday celebrations Thursday for the country’s late ruler Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Nam and his younger brother, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, share the same father but different mothers. Kim Jong Nam's mother was an actress who was not married to his father.

Kim Jong Nam was long considered the heir apparent but was believed to have fallen out of favor with his father after he was caught in 2001 trying to enter Japan on a false passport, telling Japanese police he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

That set the stage for Kim Jong Un to take power after their father died of a heart attack in 2011.

Reports involving the secretive North Korean leadership often prove untrue or exaggerated. If true, the death would mark a stunning development as the country is embroiled in a showdown with the United States and its allies over its nuclear and missile programs and purported diplomatic strains with China.

The younger Kim has conducted several purges as he has moved to consolidate his power. Kim’s brother was believed close to his once-powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was branded a “traitor” and executed in December 2013.

His cousin, Lee Han-young, defected to South Korea in 1982 but was shot and killed by North Korean agents in Seoul 15 years later, according to South Korea.

Mark Tokola, vice president of the Korean Economic Institute of America, wrote in a blog Tuesday that it is likely Kim Jong Nam was assassinated on orders of his half-brother.

“It seems probable that the motivation for the murder was a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong Un, which may be a well-placed paranoia.  Whether or not Kim Jong-nam was actively plotting against Kim Jong Un (and there is scant evidence of that), he provided an alternative for North Koreans who would want to depose Kim Jong Un.”

He also wrote that is was likely the killing was an affront to China because Kim Jong Nam had been living under Chinese protection in Macau and had called for “Chinese-style economic reform” in North Korea. The U.S. has been hoping China would use its leverage with North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs.

The Kim family dynasty has ruled the country since it was established in 1948. A day before Kim Jong Un was officially proclaimed as their father’s successor,  Kim Jong Nam told Japan’s Asahi TV that he opposed dynastic succession although he did not oppose his brother’s rise to power because of unspecified “internal factors.”

North Korea has faced a groundswell of international condemnation this week after it test-fired an intermediate-range missile despite U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at stopping its nuclear weapons program.

The council strongly denounced the missile launch and urged members to “redouble efforts” to enforce punishing economic sanctions against the isolated country.

President Donald Trump said “Obviously North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly.”

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel
 

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