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Malaysian police investigating what USA and South Korean officials say was an assassination carried out by North Korean agents took statements from the three North Koreans before they were allowed to leave the country.

The body of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was sent back to North Korea following an autopsy.

The three North Koreans wanted for questioning over the murder of Kim Jong Nam were allowed to leave Malaysia because authorities had no grounds to hold them after finally recording their statements, said Malaysia's Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar on Friday (Mar 31).

Malaysian prosecutors have so far charged two women - an Indonesian and a Vietnamese - with killing Jong Nam using VX nerve agent.

Malaysia canceled its visa-waiver program with North Korea and kicked out North Korea's top envoy to Malaysia in response to the North's "diplomatically rude" behavior.

As Merrit reported for the Two-Way yesterday, Malaysia's prime minister said the move was "in exchange for the return of nine Malaysians who had been blocked from leaving North Korea".

"It is a win (for North Korea), clearly", Andrei Lankov, North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University said on the swap deal.

The nine Malaysian nationals were met by their relatives and a large media contingent at Kuala Lumpur airport early on Friday.

Malaysian police took statements from the three men before they were allowed to leave the country, as the hunt continues for the killers. Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation.

The three men left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on Thursday on a flight that also carried the body of Kim Jong Nam.

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Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak says Malaysia will not cut diplomatic ties with North Korea as he considers the hostage crisis issue closed.

Lieutenant Colonel Hasrizan Kamis said the Bombardier jet left for Pyongyang from a Malaysian airbase on Thursday, apparently after talks reached a breakthrough.

North Korea had insisted the body be returned to North Korea, despite North Korean officials claiming the dead man was not Mr Kim.

North Korea has denied any involvement in the murder of Kim, who it is still referring to as Kim Chol, which was the name on the victim's diplomatic passport.

On Friday, foreign minister Anifah confirmed the body was on its way back to North Korea after being kept in a hospital morgue in Kuala Lumpur for more than six weeks.

"We have obtained whatever we wanted from them", Khalid told reporters.

Mr Kim lived in Macau with his second wife and two children.

Malaysian police believe the women were recruited by another North Korean national, Ri Ji U, also known as James. The three were believed to have been in hiding at the DPRK embassy in Malaysia.

Those who have returned include the country's counsellor to North Korea, Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, embassy staff, and their families.

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