A crisis that is not going to end anytime soon

- Reuters

TOMORROW marks three weeks since Kim Jong-nam suffered an agonising death on Malaysian soil.

In the first few days of the killing, there was much speculation in the me­­dia, local and foreign, on the cause of death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s exiled half-brother, how it happened and who the two alleged female assassins were.

So many untruths and near-misses were reported, including a tweet by a South Korean journalist that the bodies of the two female assassins had been found.

And again Malaysia had to deal with global media attention.

While police were seen fast in piecing the pieces of the puzzle together, there were still gaps in the handling of the crisis.

In this situation, a joint crisis management team would have kept all the parties on the same page instead of working in silos.

And it didn’t help that some politicians tried to gain mileage by issuing statements which didn’t actually put them in good light.

Occasionally, the civil servants too were caught unawares by the ministers’ announcements in relation to the case.

“At a time like this, seeking popularity should be the last priority. We do not realise how serious this crisis is,” lamented an observer.

We are now slowly getting a clearer picture as to what happened and why the murder was carried out.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah have been charged with murdering Jong-nam and are waiting for their trial.

One North Korean remanded by the police has been released and deported due to the lack of evidence. Two other North Koreans – the embassy’s second secretary Hyon Kwan-song and Air Koryo employee Kim Uk-il – are wanted by the police to help in investigation.

Hyon has diplomatic immunity while an arrest warrant has been issued against Uk-il. Both men are believed to be in “hiding” in the embassy, where Malaysian authorities have no jurisdiction.

Four more North Koreans, wanted by the police to help in the investigation, have escaped.

As the murder case was developing, North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol was the face of Pyongyang to the outside world.

His midnight outburst outside the Kuala Lumpur Hospital mortuary questioning the police investigation was not unexpected.

Rejection and blaming others are the norm for Pyongyang to absolve itself from any incident implicating the country.

Kang Chol has been silent following the tit-for-tat between him and Wisma Putra and the police after he rejected and cast doubt on Malaysian police investigation.

As the investigation was going on and the diplomatic rift widened, along came the high-level North Korean delegation last Tuesday.

They came “unannounced”, thanks to the visa-free facility for North Korean visitors. The visit came as a surprise not only for the media, but also to the Foreign Ministry.

The four-member delegation led by Kim Song, deputy chief for Treaty and Law Department, told the me­­dia later in the day that they were seeking the release of Jong-nam’s body and the “development” of friendly relations between both countries.

And that was the message regurgitated during a meeting with Wis­ma Putra officials, a meeting confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Two days later, delegation spokesman Ri Tong-il rejected Malaysia’s autopsy finding that the VX nerve agent had killed Jong-nam, saying that the man probably died of a heart attack because he had been suffering from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

In response, Wisma Putra issued a statement expressing concern over the use of VX at a public place that had led to the death of a North Korean man.

If – to borrow the term used by the North Korean – the “development” of friendly relations was one of the reasons the delegation was in Malaysia, one should ask if North Korea has made any attempt to act like a friendly country.

Pyongyang and its officials have continued to spew insults against the Malaysian Government and behaved like bullies.

It is astonishing that Putrajaya has been rather “forgiving” with the North Koreans.

“Kang Chol insulted Malaysia in the first round and now you have this delegation repeating the same allegations. The authorities should have just shut them out. It is most inappropriate when we are being seen as looking at this issue lightly.

“By having these people insulting Malaysia in our territory, it is as if we don’t realise that they are playing us out on our own soil,” said an observer.

After nearly three weeks, the Ma­laysian Government has had enough.

Kang Chol refused to apologise for making accusations against Malay­sia despite being demanded to do so by Putrajaya.

Yesterday, he was given 48 hours to leave the country after he was declared persona non grata. It may be a little late, but it had to be done.

The ambassador has insulted Malaysia and worse, he has refused to cooperate with the police and hampered investigation by not allowing second secretary Hyon to help in police probe.

“The embassy has not provided access to those hiding in the embassy. Why Malaysia continues to be tolerant despite the disrespect shown is beyond me,” said an official.

We have to admit Malaysia’s image has taken a beating and in the social media, many Malaysians have expressed their displeasure over North Korea’s conduct and attempt to disparage Malaysia.

Will Malaysia up the ante as the diplomatic tension builds up? This crisis is not going to end anytime soon.

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