PYONGYANG, March 7 2017 : North Korea said today it has temporarily banned Malaysians from leaving the country to ensure the safety of its diplomats and citizens in Malaysia amid an escalating row over the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother.
Reuters reported that the North Korea’s foreign ministry has notified the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang of the reason for the measure and said it had hoped the case would be swiftly and fairly resolved in order to develop bilateral ties with Malaysia.
“All Malaysian citizens in the DPRK (North Korea) will be temporarily prohibited from leaving the country until the incident that happened in Malaysia is properly solved,” the state-run Korea Central News Agency said, quoting a foreign ministry official.
“In this period the diplomats and citizens of Malaysia may work and live normally under the same conditions and circumstances as before.”
In an immediate reaction, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamid, who is also the Home Minister was reported by Bernama today as saying that Malaysia has prohibited any officers and staff at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur from leaving the country in a directive that takes effect immediately.
Zahid said the measure was taken in response to the directive from North Korea’s foreign ministry which banned Malaysians residing in North Korea from leaving that country.
“The Home Ministry through the Immigration Department has issued the directive with immediate effect that no officers or staff in the North Korean embassy are allowed to leave from all the country’s exit points.
“We don’t intend to have any retaliation but this must be done when a country that has diplomatic relations with Malaysia takes action outside the diplomatic etiquettes and convention,” he told reporters at Parliament lobby.
He said Malaysia had to take similar action because North Korea had manipulated the murder case which occurred at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia 2).
Meanwhile, Foreign Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican said 11 Malaysians, including two United Nations World Food Programme participants who are presently in North Korea are safe.
He said besides the duo, others were three officers and staff of the Malaysian Embassy and their family members.
“There is no threat to their lives. Let us not come to that point yet. I will also contact one of them soon,” he told reporters also at the parliament building lobby.
Malaysia has been outraged by the murder of the North Korean leader’s estranged half brother at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13 by assassins using VX nerve agent, a super toxic chemical listed by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
Police have identified eight North Koreans wanted in connection with the murder, including a senior North Korean diplomat and a state airline employee. The only people charged so far are a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman.
Before the murder, North Korea could count Malaysia as one of its few friends, but Malaysia has since stopped visa-free travel and yesterday expelled North Korea’s ambassador for questioning the impartiality of the murder investigation.
At a separate press conference today, Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said up to three of the North Koreans sought in connection with the murder had holed up at the embassy in the Malaysian capital.
“How much longer do they want to hide in the embassy…it is a matter of time before they come out,” police chief Khalid said.
“We will not raid the embassy building, we will wait for them to come out. We have got all the time,” Khalid said.
Police have cordoned off the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Aside from the suspects said to be hiding in the embassy, police have said that four other North Koreans left Malaysia in the hours after the murder.
The only North Korean suspect to be apprehended was deported on Friday, released due to insufficient evidence.
U.S. officials and South Korean intelligence suspect North Korean agents were behind the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who had been living in Macau under China’s protection, and had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea.
North Korea has refused to accept that the dead man is leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother, and has suggested the victim died of a heart attack.
No next of kin have come forward to claim the body, but the Malaysian police chief said he was confident of obtaining DNA samples to formally identify the murdered man. – Agencies