Football: North Korea grants Malaysian prince access to airspace as nations finally prepare to meet on the pitch
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Football: North Korea grants Malaysian prince access to airspace as nations finally prepare to meet on the pitch

NORTH Korea has granted a football-loving Malaysian prince access to its airspace “anytime”, as Pyongyang prepares to finally host an Asian Cup tie between the nations.

The match was initially a casualty of the assassination in Malaysia of the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February.

Originally scheduled to take place on March 28, the qualifying match was twice delayed over Malaysia’s fears for the safety of its players, but will now go ahead on October 5.

The match will be played at the 50,000-capacity Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang.

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The two formerly friendly governments suffered a diplomatic breakdown as North Korea reacted angrily to Malaysian police investigating the role North Korean officials allegedly played in the murder of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

But relations appear to have improved, particularly if the latest dialogue between the crown prince of the southern state of Johor and North Korean officials is anything to go by.

Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, who is also the president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), met with North Korea’s most senior diplomat in Malaysia this week to discuss football and other issues.

“Amongst issues discussed were foreign relations and current affairs, as well as the upcoming Group B match of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 qualifying final round, in which both teams will ensure the safety of players and team officials,” said a statement from the Johor palace.

KimIlSung

Malaysia will face North Korea at Kim Il-Sung Stadium in Pyongyang on October 5. Source: Mieszko9/Shutterstock.com

North Korea has also granted the prince “full access” to its airspace “anytime” he wants to visit from Malaysia, the palace statement said.

“It is the highest honour, as any other world leader will need to stop by in Beijing beforehand,” it said.

The trial of two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, charged with the murder of Kim, is set to begin in Kuala Lumpur on October 2.

But the North Koreans sought by police were believed to have fled Malaysia soon after the murder. – Reuters.