Update at 3:35 KST: This article has been updated to include comment from the Malaysian Embassy in the DPRK.
North Korean citizens are barred from leaving Malaysia “with immediate effect,” the country’s deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Tuesday, without commenting further about specifics.
Of the eight North Koreans who have been linked by Malaysian police to last month’s assassination of the man believed to be Kim Jong Nam, two are believed to be in hiding at the embassy: one a diplomat and the other an Air Koryo employee.
The move comes as North Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced earlier on Tuesday that it will temporarily prevent all Malaysians – largely the staff of the Malaysian Embassy in Pyongyang – from leaving the country, according to a dispatch from the state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The Protocol Department of the DPRK Foreign Ministry… on Tuesday informed the Malaysian Embassy here of its decision to temporarily ban the exit of Malaysian citizens in the DPRK,” the report said.
KCNA added the period of prohibition is “until the safety of DPRK’s diplomats and citizens in Malaysia is fully guaranteed through the fair settlement of the case that occurred in Malaysia.”
“In this period the diplomats and citizens of the Malaysia may work and live here normally under the same conditions and circumstances as before.”
In response to the ban, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on North Korea to immediately release all Malaysians in the DPRK.
“This abhorrent act, effectively holding our citizens hostage, is in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms,” he said in a statement, saying that the decision had prompted Malaysia to prevent all North Korean citizens in the country from leaving the country.
“As a peace-loving nation, Malaysia is committed to maintaining friendly relations with all countries,” he added. “However, protecting our citizens is my first priority, and we will not hesitate to take all measures necessary when they are threatened.”
At the time of the KCNA release on Tuesday, senior staff at the Malaysian Embassy in North Korea told NK News that they had yet to be informed of any such decision by the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Speaking with NK News several hours after the decision was announced, Counsellor
Mohammad Nor Azrin Md. Zain at the Malaysian Embassy in Pyongyang said they had been informed of the decision by the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Our government is placing the utmost priority on this issue,” he said. “Even our PM is holding a special meeting this afternoon. We hope this can be solved quickly.”
“The most important issue on hand is to discuss the next steps.”
The moves comes after the expulsion from Malaysia yesterday of North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol, who was given 48 hours to leave the country on Saturday after failing to turn up to a meeting at Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Local authorities wanted Kang to apologize for suggestions, made repeatedly during the Malaysian Police’s ongoing investigation into the death of the man believed to be Kim Jong Nam, that Malaysia was being manipulated by foreign powers “hostile to the DPRK” and that its legal system had been compromised.
“If they made baseless accusations, they should rightfully apologize and take back what they said. But they didn’t do that, so we have taken action to declare the person as persona non grata,” Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak told reporters yesterday. “No one can insult us or look down on us.”
North Korea responded in kind to the expulsion yesterday, labeling Malaysian Ambassador Mohammad Nizan – who left Pyongyang a week after the Kim Jong Nam killing and is not thought to have returned – as a “persona non grata”.
Eleven Malaysians are believed to be in North Korea: three of which are embassy staff and six are their family members, according to the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Reezal Merican. Two are believed to be working for the World Food Programme (WPF).
Additional reporting: Dagyum Ji
Main picture: Haze in Kuala Lumpur by Tukang Kebun/Wikimedia commons, edited by NK News
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