N Koreans in Malaysia keep low profile after Kim killing

N Koreans in Malaysia keep low profile after Kim killing
The closed premises of the Pyongyang Koryo Restaurant, a North Korean cuisine joint in Kuala Lumpur.
PHOTO: AFP

 Malaysia's only North Korean restaurant promises a glimpse into life in the reclusive state but it has been shuttered since news broke of the assassination of leader Kim Jong-Un's brother, with security guards turning customers away.

Pyongyang Koryo is the most visible symbol of a 1,000-strong North Korean community in Malaysia, made up of a business elite as well as ordinary workers who will likely know little about the Cold War-style killing of Kim Jong-Nam.

Waitresses at the restaurant, one of dozens the North has established abroad, wear traditional dress and entertain diners with singing and dancing at the unassuming building in a sleepy residential area of Kuala Lumpur.

Half-brother of N Korean leader assassinated in Malaysia

But even when the doors are open neighbours say the young women have little contact with the wider world as they are shuttled to and from their accommodation.

"I've seen the women being taken to and from the compound and they never walk this way or talk to anyone," said Jack Liew, who runs a car workshop that shares a back alley with the restaurant.

"When I tried to look into their back yard, the door was covered with vinyl sheeting and there's nothing else to look at," he told AFP.

Read also: Kim 'loved KL nightlife, had S'pore girlfriend'

Other residents also said they had seen the North Korean workers but had never spoken with them, describing the waitresses only as "very pretty".

At the other end of the spectrum are elites who are also keeping a low profile but would be well aware of the assassination, said Alex Hwang, a South Korean who chairs the Malaysian branch of the Seoul-backed National Unification Advisory Council.

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Hwang runs an upmarket restaurant in the Malaysian capital which he says is popular with prominent North Korean expatriates, at one time including Jong-Nam who was killed at Kuala Lumpur's airport in an apparent poisoning attack on Monday.

Their business interests include computer animation firms, manufacturing, and some black market activities, he told AFP.

Read also: N Korean nabbed in Kim Jong Nam murder case is chemistry expert

"Most of them have Rolex watches, they drive nice cars, their children go to normal schools and have the latest gadgets.... They are like any other business person," said Hwang of the roughly 250-strong group.

But they would think twice before sharing news of the assassination with friends or family when they go home.

Each North Korean family living abroad reports to the local embassy every month for a debrief and when they return, they undergo "re-education" before being allowed to return to the general population, he said.

On Saturday around 40 North Koreans made their way to the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, South Korea's Chosun TV reported as its journalists quizzed the group over the killing which Seoul's spy chief said was carried out by agents from the North.

Analysts believe Jong-Nam may have been seen as a rival to his younger sibling, in a dynastic regime that has never loosened its grip on power in three generations.

 

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