KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said on Saturday (Mar 11) that the country will begin formal negotiations with North Korea in the coming days, on the return of the nine Malaysians stranded in Pyongyang.
They were banned from leaving North Korea amid a diplomatic spat over the killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Mr Anifah said North Korea has indicated that it wants to begin negotiations but Malaysia is unaware of their demands and needs to have its own discussions first on how to proceed.
He added that Malaysia wants to engage Pyongyang directly. "We are talking to North Korea directly ... we don't need a third party, although there have been many offers," said Mr Anifah. "I'm very, very positive this could be settled as soon as possible."
North Korea had previously demanded to have the body of the man they recognise only as Kim Chol, based on the passport found on the person who was murdered at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13.
Malaysia had refused pending confirmation of his identity and having his next-of-kin come forward. Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar had on Friday confirmed that the murdered North Korean man is Kim Jong Nam.
On Saturday, the foreign minister also said the body would be given to either the North Korean government or the next-of-kin but that Malaysia will discuss this when the time comes. "We don't want to keep the body of Kim Jong Nam longer than necessary. It does not belong to us," he said.
As for the Malaysians stranded in North Korea, Mr Anifah said that his ministry is in constant contact with them and they are "in good health and high spirits."
He added: "They are safe in the embassy's compound and free to move about and lead a normal life ... The government is going all that we can to bring them back home as soon as possible."