MALAYSIA has yet to commence formal negotiations with North Korea over its decision to bar Malaysians from leaving the country, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Thursday.
Najib, however, gave his assurance the nine stranded in Pyongyang were not in any danger, despite the diplomatic spat between Malaysia and the reclusive regime.
“When the time comes, we will formally negotiate with North Korea. In the meantime, we have found our people in North Korea are safe and there is nothing to worry about,” Najib was quoted saying in Malay Mail Online.
“That’s for now, I’ll inform if there is anything else,” he said.
Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said last Saturday North Korea had indicated its willingness to start negotiations on the return of the nine, who were barred from leaving Pyongyang following disagreements with Malaysia over Kim Jong Nam’s murder investigation.
Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was killed with VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb 13.
The incident sparked a diplomatic standoff when Malaysia refused to abide by North Korea’s demands for the immediate return of the body, and both countries slapped travel bans on each other’s citizens.
There were initially 11 Malaysians in North Korea but two – both staff at the United Nations – were able to fly out of Pyongyang last week with their UN passports. The nine who remain include three children.
Malaysia also recalled its ambassador in Pyongyang and recently expelled North Korea’s envoy to the country, moves that worsen the diplomatic row.
Shortly after the murder, Pyongyang’s ambassador Kang Chol said Malaysia’s investigation could not be trusted. He also accused the country’s authorities of colluding with outside forces, in a veiled reference to its bitter rival South Korea.
In response, Najib said the comments were “diplomatically rude” and Malaysia formally demanded an apology for it. The apology, of course, never came.
Malaysia has also suggested the nuclear-armed state’s involvement in Jong Nam’s murder and has identified eight North Korean suspects believed linked to the killing.
US officials and South Korean intelligence similarly suspect North Korean agents were behind the assassination.
North Korea, however, has criticised Malaysia’s handling of the murder probe.
Jong Nam had been living in Macau under China’s protection. He was known to have spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic rule of North Korea.