Kim Jong-nam arrives at Beijing airport in China on February 11, 2007. Photo: Kyodo/via Reuters
Kim Jong Nam arrives at Beijing airport in China in a February 11, 2007 file photo. Photo: Kyodo/via Reuters

North Korea scorned South Korea’s suggestion on Tuesday that Pyongyang could lose its UN seat because of the use of chemical weapons to assassinate the half-brother of North Korea’s leader in Malaysia.

“North Korea totally rejects the despicable, irresponsible, impertinent and illogical remarks made by South Korea,” North Korean diplomat Ju Yong Choi told the Conference on Disarmament at the UN in Geneva.

“DPRK has never produced or stockpiled or used chemical weapons and our position is clear. We categorically reject the assumptions and speculations on the incident in Malaysia.”

South Korea had called for “collective measures” to punish North Korea for what it said was the use of chemical weapons to kill the estranged half-brother of its leader Kim Jong-un.  Malaysia said on Tuesday 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 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 U.S. and South Korean officials believe he was the victim of an assassination orchestrated by Pyongyang.

“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.”

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 to 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.

Deadly nerve agent

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 grams of VX is sufficient for mass killing,” Yun said.

“North Korea is reported to have not just grams 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.”

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.

‘Reality TV show’

Malaysia’s investigation into the killing has raised diplomatic tension with North Korea, and on Tuesday a high- ranking delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur from Pyongyang in a bid to smooth ties.

North Korea‘s official media has made no mention of Kim Jong-nam, who had been living in exile, under Beijing’s protection, in the Chinese territory of Macau, and had criticized the regime of his family and his half-brother, Kim Jong-un.

But a report last week from the North’s KCNA state news agency blamed Malaysia for the death of one of its citizens there.

Security camera footage showed two women assaulting Kim Jong-nam in the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He died within 20 minutes.

Both of the women arrested have told diplomats from their countries that they had been paid to take part in what they believed was a prank for a reality television show.

Huong, the Vietnamese woman, was detained 48 hours after the murder in the same airport terminal where Kim Jong-nam was killed.

She is believed to be the woman wearing a white shirt emblazoned with the acronym “LOL,” whose image was caught on security cameras while waiting for a taxi after the attack.

The Indonesian woman, Siti Aishah, was detained a day later.

Police have said the women knew what they were doing when they attacked Kim Jong-nam and were instructed to wash their hands afterwards.

Police said Aishah fell sick, vomiting repeatedly while in custody possibly as a side-effect of VX, though Indonesian embassy officials have subsequently said she was in good health.