Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah claim they were part of a TV prank. They accuse North Korean agents repatriated following an agreement between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang. Tensions between North Korea and the United States remain high. US president discourages Secretary of State from holding talks. North Korea is preparing a new test and celebrations for the autumn festival.
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The two women charged with murdering Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, have pleaded not guilty as their trial in Malaysia got under way under tight security.
The two accused, 29-year-old Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam and 25-year-old Siti Aisyah (pictured) were arrested three days after the assassination. The two women were accused of rubbing Kim Jong-nam's face with a highly toxic nerve agent known as Vx agent, which overcame his central nervous system in just 20 minutes.
The two women are the only suspects in Malaysian custody for what South Korean intelligence calls a plot carried out by Pyongyang to assassinate the leader's brother, seen as a dissident.
If convicted, the defendants face the death penalty. They claim they were tricked by North Korean agents who told they were part of a TV prank.
Malaysian police said that four North Koreans involved in the plot left the country on the same day as the assassination. Three others were allowed to return to North Korea following a diplomatic agreement for the repatriation of nine Malaysians detained by Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, tensions between North Korea and the United States remain high. US President Donald Trump said yesterday that he has discouraged US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from talking to North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme because it was a waste of time.
"I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Trump wrote on Twitter, using his nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. "Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!"
In an apparent bid to ease the tensions, Tillerson said a day earlier that the US maintains channels of communication with Pyongyang and is not in a "dark situation, a blackout. [. . .] We can talk to them. We do talk to them," he told reporters.
As analysts announce a new provocative North Korean atomic test, Pyongyang is getting ready to celebrate Chuseok, Korea’s traditional autumn festival, which this year falls on 4 October. However, whilst the holiday will last 10 days in South Korea, in the north it will be a one-day affair.
Since 1945, when the Korean Peninsula was divided after its liberation from Japan, the time-honoured celebration was not observed in the North until it was reinstated it in 1989. During this time, the traditional holiday was denounced as being "in breach of the manners of socialism".
Now Chuseok is one of North Korea's 18 national holidays, but it is observed in a much more modest way, as the communist regime puts more emphasis on the birthdays of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung on 15 April, and his successor Kim Jong-il on 16 February. Two-day holidays are given for those anniversaries.