KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA —
The body of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is still in Malaysia, the country's health minister said Tuesday, dismissing reports that his remains were about to be flown out of the country as part of diplomatic negotiations.
Malaysian authorities say Kim Jong Nam was killed Feb. 13 after two women smeared his face with the banned VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur's airport. North Korea -- widely suspected of being behind the attack -- rejects the findings.
Conflicting reports in the local media on Monday said either that Kim's body was to be cremated and flown to Pyongyang, or that the body was about to be sent to Macau where his family is believed to be.
But Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said Kim's body was still in a morgue, pending negotiations with North Korea.
"I need to check with my forensic department whether there is any requirement for them to take the body out. But as far as we are concerned, there has been no change," he said.
Kim's death has sparked a diplomatic dispute, with the countries imposing an exit ban on each other's citizens. Malaysian officials have pledged to secure the release of nine Malaysians -- three embassy staff and six family members -- stranded in Pyongyang but have been tight lipped on the negotiations.
About 315 North Koreans are in Malaysia but the focus is on three of the seven North Korean suspects wanted by police in connection to Kim's death. Police have said the three men, including the embassy's second official and a worker with North Korean carrier Air Koryo, are believed to be hiding in the embassy. Four others left the country on the day of the killing.
Confusion set in after local media reported that Kim's body was taken out of the morgue late Sunday. Later reports then said it had been returned to the hospital due to technical problems with airline cargo.
Subramaniam said the government will keep the body until a solution is found "to this problem."
"Once they finish the discussion and come to a definite decision, we will make an announcement," he said, in reference to the negotiations.
The countries have each expelled the other's ambassador. North Korea then blocked all Malaysians from leaving until a "fair settlement" of the case was reached. Malaysia followed suit, by barring North Koreans from exiting its soil. Both countries also scrapped visa-free travel for each other's citizens.
Although Malaysia has never directly accused North Korea of being behind the attack, many speculate that Pyongyang 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 weapon.
The attack was caught on surveillance video that shows two women going up to Kim and apparently smearing something on his face. He was dead within 20 minutes, authorities say. The women -- one Indonesian, one Vietnamese -- have been charged with murder but say they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank.