Kim Jong Un’s brother, who was killed in Malaysia on Monday, begged the North Korean leader to spare his life after escaping an earlier assassination attempt, the head of South Korean intelligence said on Wednesday.
Kim Jong Nam wrote to the supreme leader in 2012 to ask him to spare his life and those of his family, Lee Byung-ho, director of the National Intelligence Service, told lawmakers in Seoul. Mr Lee said Pyongyang had been attempting to kill the elder Kim, who was once seen as the heir-apparent to the North Korean leadership, for five years.
Kim Jong Nam was killed while waiting to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Macau on Monday morning. A woman clad in a short skirt and white top approached him from behind and smothered his face in a wet rag, according to Malaysian police.
He died shortly afterwards while being rushed to hospital. The precise cause of death is not yet known, although poisoning is suspected.
A report in the Malay-language broadsheet Utusan, which was tweeted from the official account of the Malaysian police on Wednesday, said Kim had frantically appealed for help, claiming his eyes were in pain, following the attack at the airport. Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama reported on Wednesday afternoon that a woman from Myanmar had been detained in connection with the incident.
The 46-year-old Kim’s grisly death speaks volumes about the nature of the reclusive regime and the boundaries it will cross, both familial and geographic, to solidify its position.
For observers of the North, the assassination is a show of absolute power — a display of the dictator’s unshackled might and a warning to domestic rivals.
“If it was necessary for him remove his brother, it implies Kim Jong Un worries about the possibility of elites waging a campaign to replace him,” said Kim Jaechun, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul. “Particularly because Kim Jong Nam was older and age is very important in Korean culture.”
But while the murder may help the North Korean leader consolidate power at home, it looks likely to strain ties abroad.
“[The latest killing] will not do any good for relations between China and North Korea,” said Prof Kim. “Kim Jong Nam was more pro-China. Maybe they thought they could establish a moderate regime under him, if Kim Jong Un became too much.”
The incident is also likely to undermine ties with Malaysia — one of the few countries that is open to North Korea. Last week Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang, which maintain diplomatic relations, signed a memorandum of understanding on deepening cultural exchanges.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has ordered a thorough investigation into the apparent assassination and authorities have made arrangements to prevent potential interference in the autopsy, according to a person close to the Malaysian PM’s office.
North Korean officials, in a black limousine bearing their country’s flag, arrived at the Kuala Lumpur hospital where the autopsy was being carried out on Wednesday afternoon amid speculation that Pyongyang was attempting to block a postmortem investigation.
Malaysian immigration officials are working with police to establish the authenticity of the travel document used by Mr Kim, according to the state news agency Bernama.
Kim Jong Nam, who had criticised North Korea’s dynastic power succession, was living in Macau under the protection of the Chinese government, according to Mr Lee. the South Korean spy chief.
At one point he was considered heir-apparent to his father, Kim Jong Il. However, his prospects were dashed after an incident in which he was arrested attempting to visit Disneyland in Tokyo on a fake passport.
Since Kim Jong Un ascended to the supreme leadership in 2011, his rule has been characterised by a mix of populist gestures to the North Korean public and ruthless purges of the regime’s top brass.
South Korean intelligence agencies believe he has ordered the execution of scores of high-ranking military and political officials, most notably his uncle Jang Song Thaek in 2013.
South Korea plans to broadcast news of the killing by loudspeaker across the border with the North, state media agency Yonhap quoted government officials as saying on Wednesday. There was no mention of the killing in North Korean official media by Wednesday afternoon.
Additional reporting by Song Jung-a in Seoul
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