Malaysia said Tuesday that the body of Kim Jong-Nam has been embalmed to stop it decomposing, as it lies unclaimed in a Kuala Lumpur morgue a month after his assassination.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also announced the deportation of 50 North Korean workers in an apparent exception to a departure ban imposed after the killing of the half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un.
The assassination, carried out with VX nerve agent at Malaysia's main airport, triggered an angry standoff between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang that has seen them expel each other's ambassadors and refuse to let their citizens leave.
Pyongyang, which has never confirmed Kim's identity, has repeatedly demanded the return of his body but Malaysian authorities have refused to release it without a DNA sample from next-of-kin.
The body, currently kept in a morgue in the capital, has been embalmed to prevent it from decomposing more than a month after the assassination, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.
"It's an effort to preserve the body, because if it is kept in the mortuary it might decompose," he told reporters.
A senior official close to the investigation told AFP that the body would either need to be stored at very low temperatures or embalmed by a professional undertaker to keep it from decomposing.
In the case of ongoing investigations, however, bodies must usually be kept at higher temperatures so they don't turn to ice.
"If we keep the body below 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), it will become ice," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"At the morgue, the bodies are kept at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius. But after one month, there will be a slow process of decomposition," he added.
"If we need to keep the body longer, we have to preserve it through embalming."
In the case of Kim, the body was apparently thawed on several occasions in the course of the probe and had already begun to show signs of decomposition, the New Straits Times reported Tuesday.
- Sent back -
Hamidi also said that 50 North Koreans working in Sarawak state on Borneo island -- home to coal mines which often employ foreign workers -- would be deported from Malaysia despite the ban.
"We will send the North Korean workers in Sarawak who have exceeded their visa back to Pyongyang for overstaying," he said. "They will be deported soon."
He did not say why the government had decided on the expulsion despite Kuala Lumpur's bar on North Korean nationals leaving the country -- a tit-for-tat measure put in place after Pyongyang prohibited Malaysians from leaving its borders last week.
The diplomatic crisis erupted last month after North Korea attacked the Malaysian investigation into Kim's killing as an attempt to smear the secretive regime.
Three Malaysian embassy staff and six family members are stranded in North Korea as a result.
Two women -- one Vietnamese and one Indonesian -- have been arrested and charged with the murder. CCTV footage shows them smearing the 45-year-old's face with a piece of cloth. Pyongyang has insisted that he most likely died of a heart attack.
Relations between North Korea and Malaysia had been particularly warm, with a reciprocal visa-free travel deal for visitors, prior to the high-profile killing.
Up to 100,000 North Koreans are believed to be working abroad and their remittances are a valuable source of foreign currency for the isolated regime.