Kim Jong-Nam's body returned to North Korea

Kim Jong-Nam's body has been handed to North Korea. Credit: AP Photo/JoongAng Sunday

The body of Kim Jong-Nam has been returned to North Korea, more than six weeks after he was killed in a targeted attack at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The release of the body of the estranged half-brother of North Korea's dictator came after "very sensitive" negotiations which saw the nine Malaysians held in Pyongyang allowed to return home.

The exchange has brought to an end a bitter dispute between the two countries which has raged since Mr Kim's death on February 13.

It is not known what caused the diplomatic breakthrough, but as well as the body's release, two suspects who had been holed up in North Korea's embassy in Kuala Lumpur were also released.

The Malaysians - three embassy workers and six family members including four children - were flown home in a government jet and greeted by foreign minister Anifah Aman at the airport.

Mr Anifah said their safe return reflected "diplomacy at its best".

The forensics department where Mr Kim's body was kept remained under guard throughout. Credit: AP Photo/Daniel Chan

Mr Kim was killed when he was smeared in the face with the deadly toxin VX nerve agent - classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.

The death prompted speculation that Mr Kim had been killed by assassins dispatched by Kim Jong-Un, since VX can only be produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory, and North Korea is widely believed to possess large quantities of chemical weapons.

Although the 45-year-old was not an obvious political threat to his estranged, younger half-brother, he may have been seen as a potential rival in the country's dynastic dictatorship.

Malaysia's investigation enraged North Korea, which denied any role in the killing and denounced the investigation as flawed and politically motivated.

North Korea does not even acknowledge the victim is Mr Kim, referring to him instead as Kim Chol, the name on the passport he was carrying when he died.

However, Pyongyang has always demanded custody of the body, arguing that the victim was a citizen.

As tensions escalated in recent weeks, both countries withdrew their ambassadors and North Korea blocked nine Malaysians who were in the country at the time from leaving.

Malaysia responded in kind, barring North Koreans from exiting its soil, including three suspects believed to be hiding in the North Korean embassy.