Malaysia: PM calls ban ‘abhorrent’, demands N. Korea release all Malaysians
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Malaysia: PM calls ban ‘abhorrent’, demands N. Korea release all Malaysians

MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Najib Razak has called on North Korea to immediately allow Malaysian citizens to leave the country, calling the move to ban them leaving an “abhorrent act”, according to a government press release.

His remarks come after North Korea placed a temporary ban on Malaysians leaving the country.

He claimed the move was to ensure the safety of its diplomats and citizens in Malaysia amid the escalating dispute between the two nations over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, on Malaysian soil.

Najib accused North Korea of essentially “holding our citizens hostage” and declared the act to be in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms.

In response to the ban, Najib has passed instruction for all North Koreans to be halted from leaving Malaysia, stating he will “not hesitate to take all necessary measures” when Malaysian citizens are “threatened.”

SEE ALSO: Malaysia: North Korean ambassador expelled amid worsening ties between both countries

State media from North Korea announced on Tuesday:

“All Malaysian nationals in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) will be temporarily prohibited from leaving the country until the incident in Malaysia is properly solved,” the official KCNA News said, citing the foreign ministry, as reported by AFP (via The Star)

It is reported 11 Malaysians are currently stranded at Pyongyang airport as the ban took immediate effect on Tuesday.

The intensifying diplomatic row has also resulted in the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol being expelled from the country, which then saw North Korea respond in kind.

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Kang (centre) is escorted as he arrives at KLIA in Sepang, Malaysia, on March 6, 2017. Source: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

Kang was expelled from Malaysia on Monday after he accused Najib’s government of colluding with external forces and that the investigation by Malaysian police could not be trusted.

Pyongyang then retaliated by declaring Malaysian Ambassador Mohamad Nizan Mohamad as “persona non grata” and demanding him to leave the country within 48 hours.

According to Chinese media, and reported by The Star, “emergency procedures” were taken by the Malaysian Embassy employees in Pyongyang shortly after Mohamad Nizan was expelled.

Staff were reportedly seen burning documents and loading luggage in vehicles.

SEE ALSO: North Korea calls VX agent claim ‘absurd’, blames South and US for citizen’s death

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar also told reporters on Tuesday three North Koreans wanted in connection to Jong Nam’s death were hiding in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

“How much longer do they want to hide in the embassy … it is a matter of time before they come out,” Khalid said, as reported by Reuters.

The Malaysian police sealed off the embassy on Tuesday in an effort to ascertain the number of officials inside, deputy home minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed said, according to Reuters.

“We are trying to physically identify all the embassy staff who are here,” Jazlan told reporters outside the embassy.

He said staff would not be allowed to leave the embassy “until we are satisfied of their numbers and where they are”.

Khalid also accused the North Korean authorities of not cooperating with the investigation.

This is part of an escalating tit-for-tat dispute between the two countries which has seen Malaysia cancel visa-free travel for North Koreans and Najib accuse North Korea of being “diplomatically rude.”

Jong Nam was murdered on Feb 13 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), after being assaulted by two women who Malaysian police believe smeared his face with VX nerve agent, a chemical so toxic that it is classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.

The two women who have been charged – Siti Aishah, a 25-year-old mother of one from Jakarta, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from rural northern Vietnam – could face the death penalty upon conviction.

Additional reporting by Reuters.