GENEVA/KUALA LUMPUR: South Korea called for “collective measures” to punish North Korea for using chemical weapons to kill the estranged half-brother of its leader Kim Jong Un, as Malaysia said on Tuesday that it would charge two women with murder over the airport attack.
Police have said the women smeared VX nerve agent, a chemical on a United Nations list of banned weapons of mass destruction, on Kim Jong Nam’s face in an assault captured on security cameras in the Malaysian capital’s airport on Feb 13.
Speaking at the UN-backed Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on Tuesday, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said the use of chemical weapons was a “wake-up call” and the international community should act – including possibly suspending the isolated North’s seat at the United Nations.
North Korea has rejected allegations of its involvement in the killing of Kim Jong Nam, but US and South Korean officials believe he was the victim of an assassination orchestrated by Pyongyang.
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“Many international media pointed out that North Korea’s use of chemical weapons for the targeted killing in a third country sent a very clear message to the world,” South Korea’s Yun told the Geneva forum.
“Namely this impulsive, unpredictable, trigger-happy and brutal regime is ready and willing to strike anyone, anytime, anywhere.”
North Korea’s delegation at the conference told Reuters it would respond to Yun’s speech later on Tuesday. Malaysian police arrested a Vietnamese woman, Doan Thi Huong, and an Indonesian, Siti Aishah, in the days after the attack.
Police are also holding one North Korean man and have identified seven other North Koreans wanted in connection with a case that reads like the plot of a spy movie.
Both women will be formally charged on Wednesday under section 302 of the penal code, which carries the death penalty, Malaysia’s attorney general, Mohamed Apandi Ali, confirmed to Reuters in a text message.
VX is one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever created, far more potent than Sarin, the gas used in deadly chemical attacks in Syria in 2013 and in an attack on the Tokyo subway by a Japanese doomsday cult in 1995.
“Just a few grammes of VX is sufficient for mass killing,” Yun said. “North Korea is reported to have not just grammes but thousands of tonnes of chemical weapons, including VX, all over the country... The recent assassination is a wake-up call to all of us to North Korea’s chemical weapons capability and its intent to actually use them.”
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North Korea has previously denied possessing chemical weapons. States could invoke the Chemical Weapons Convention as the use of such agents was in “flagrant violation of international law”, Yun said.
Malaysia is part of the 1993 pact prohibiting their production, transfer and use, but North Korea is not. Once the Malaysian government releases the results of its investigation, the UN Security Council and state parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention should take up the case as a “high priority agenda”, Yun said.
States that have ratified the chemical weapons ban could invoke the treaty and “take collective measures”, he added.
“It could take the form of suspension of North Korea’s rights and privileges as a UN member,” he said.