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Pacific News Minute: Murder Trial Begins for Two Women Charged in Kim Jong Nam Assassination

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

In Malaysia, the Kim Jong Nam murder trial got underway this week. Two women are charged in the assassination of the estranged older brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. We have more from Neal Conan in today's Pacific News Minute.

On February 13th,  video cameras show two young women coming up to a man in the Kuala Lumpur International airport from behind. One after another, they reach around to put their hands on his face and vanish. The man, was Kim Jong Nam, the eldest and once most favored son of North Korean Ruler Kim Jong Il, but long since exiled to Macau, where he was known to frequent casinos and bars.  Few took him seriously as a threat to his younger brother. 

Allegedly, the women smeared his face with VX, a highly toxic nerve agent, banned by the United Nations. Probably, experts say, a binary version called VX-2 that only becomes active when two separate chemicals are combined.

On Monday, Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam pleaded not guilty, and while their lawyers questioned whether the substance was really VX and why others exposed to the substance showed no symptoms, the basis of their defense is that the women were duped by North Korean agents, who paid them 100 dollars to participate in what they thought was a prank for a hidden camera TV show.

Four unnamed North Koreans are also charged; they all fled back home immediately after the murder. The incident set off a diplomatic crisis between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang that ended with both ambassadors withdrawn and travel bans.

The trial is expected to last two months; the penalty for murder in Malaysia, is death.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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