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Friday, 17 February 2017 | MYT 6:29 PM

Kim Jong-nam’s family placed under police protection in Macau

MACAU: Relatives of Kim Jong-nam, fearing for their safety after his murder in Malaysia on Monday, have been placed under police protection in Macau, sources have confirmed.

The circumstances of the death of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are still being investigated and both his family and local authorities are now grappling with the consequences of the killing.

Macau's secretary for security, Wong Sio Chak, said in a statement that he would not reveal any details about the case or the security measures being taken to protect Jong-nam's relatives, but said that the authorities are paying close attention to the developments of the case.

"The authorities continue to make their utmost efforts – in a lawful manner – to protect the safety and legitimate rights of all Macau residents, visitors and people staying in Macau," the statement said.

Over the past few days, there have been reports of US and South Korean government sources saying they believed North Korean agents murdered Jong-nam, but other analysts have argued that the country had no reasons to do so.

Jong-nam, who moved to Macau in the early 2000s and was a frequent traveller, had survived an earlier attempt on his life in 2012.

Jong-nam's second wife, Lee Hye-Kyong, son Kim Han-sol, 21, and daughter Kim Sol-hui, believed to be 18, have been living in the former Portuguese colony, whereas his first wife, Shin Jong-hu, and son reside in Beijing.

Former neighbours of Lee and two children – the couple was no longer together – declined to make any comments, citing that they were a very private family.

However, a Macau source who knows Lee said: "She is very simple, always in good spirits and a very open person ... but we never talked about North Korea."

Both Han-sol, who studied in Bosnia and France, and Sol-hui were raised and educated in international schools in Macau. "The kids had a very normal childhood, they were very active, attended activities ... it wasn't like they were hiding or anything," the source said.

"Until now, they have always felt safe in Macau," the source added.

Han-sol and Sol-hui, at the age of 14 and 10 respectively, joined the Portuguese scouts in Macau, a Catholic group, for about four years. That included attending mass and other activities, Portuguese-language newspaper Ponto Final reported in 2009.

Sources said that not many people knew about the family's background back then, but soon realised that the two were in special circumstances.

"The [kids] were very easy to deal with, but they would avoid sharing their contact details and they would often be away ... One day, they stopped showing up without any explanation," a source said.

Although Jong-nam used to travel very often, another source said that the children had a fairly close relationship with their father. "Whenever the son had a problem, I know that he would seek help from him," a source said.

Over the years, the family moved around in Macau, but many residents would not recognise them as they always maintained a low profile. That was the case of a neighbour, who lived two houses away from Jong-nam's former oceanfront villa in Cheoc Van, Coloane, about 10 years ago.

"He already lived there when I moved to that house. At first, I did not know who he was… I only realised it when I saw some news in the newspaper," said the man, who was a neighbour for some three years.

"He used to wear sunglasses. He would leave home and enter his car ... always had expensive cars," the neighbour said.

According to the neighbour, Jong-nam would never speak to others and rarely had guests. "He wouldn't look at anybody ... never greeted me. Never saw his wife or children, but I remember there were one or two men, whom I believe were security guards, near the house," he described.

From time to time, he said, Jong-nam would not be seen for weeks.

Although he might have been a reserved neighbour, friends in Macau described Jong-nam as a "relaxed and an open man", who appreciated food and wine as well as an occasional bet in the city's casinos. - South China Morning Post