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International relations

Trial of Vietnamese defendant in Kim Jong Nam case to resume

Ambassador protests decision after diplomatic bid to drop case

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, center, is escorted by police as she arrives at Shah Alam High Court in Shah Alam, Malaysia on Thursday. Vietnam has urged Malaysia to release the second woman accused of killing the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader after her co-defendant was unexpectedly set free this week.   © AP

KUALA LUMPUR -- The Malaysian high court on Thursday decided to press ahead with the trial of Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese national accused of murdering North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother Kim Jong Nam.

Her Indonesian co-defendant Siti Aisyah was released on Monday.

The Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia protested the decision to resume the trial, despite a diplomatic push to have her freed following Aisyah's discharge.

"We are very disappointed with the decision not to release Huong," Ambassador Le Quy Quynh told reporters outside the court, adding that his government would continue trying to secure her release "as soon as possible."

Quynh's comments follow a plea from Vietnamese foreign minister Pham Binh Minh to his Malaysian counterpart on Tuesday asking for Huong to be set free.

Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said at a weekly press briefing on Thursday: "Representatives of Vietnam’s Embassy in Malaysia regularly contacted Huong and were present at court sessions, ready to help and support Huong." 

Aisyah was released three days after the prosecution office wrote to the Indonesian government, referring to a "discharge not amounting to acquittal after taking into account of good relations between our respective countries." 

Jakarta disclosed the letter to the press to emphasize that it pressured Kuala Lumpur to release Aisyah .

The Indonesian government is of the opinion that Aisyah was deceived into playing a role in the incident, but Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has insisted that the prosecutor's decision was in line with the rule of law.

Thursday's trial was adjourned until April 1 at the request of Huong's legal team on health grounds.

"The other reason is to allow the time for the Vietnamese government to talk to Malaysia," said Hisyam Teh, Huong's main counsel, who has been appointed by the Vietnamese Bar Federation.

Hisyam said his client was a "scapegoat" just like Aisyah. "The decision is perverse and does not speak well for our criminal justice system," he told the court.

Four North Koreans who were jointly charged with the murder on Feb. 13, 2017 remain at large.

Researchers Ying Xian Wong in Kuala Lumpur and Kim Dung Tong in Ho Chi Minh City contributed to this article.

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