Malaysia, North Korea ban each other's citizens from leaving
by Associated Press
KUALA LUMPURMar 08, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Associated Press
Mar 08, 2017 12:00 am
North Korea barred Malaysians from exiting its borders and Malaysia followed suit Tuesday, turning ordinary citizens into pawns in the diplomatic battle surrounding the investigation into the bizarre death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother. The tit-for-tat directives come as relations between the two countries disintegrate over the poisoning of Kim Jong Nam in a crowded airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13.
"This is way out of normal diplomatic practice," Lalit Mansingh, a New Delhi-based scholar and longtime top Indian diplomat, said of North Korea's decision. He could not recall anything similar in recent years, where so many everyday citizens were pulled into a diplomatic standoff.
Although there is growing speculation that North Korea orchestrated the attack, Malaysia has never directly accused Pyongyang. Still, North Korea has slammed the investigation as flawed and called into question Malaysia's autopsy report that found VX nerve agent — a banned chemical weapon — killed Kim.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said that Pyongyang was banning Malaysians from leaving the country "until the safety of the diplomats and citizens of (North Korea) in Malaysia is fully guaranteed through the fair settlement of the case that occurred in Malaysia."
Malaysia is looking for seven North Korean suspects. Three of them, including an official at the North Korean Embassy, are believed to still be in Malaysia. Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia's national police chief, said the three are probably holed up inside the embassy.
Soon after North Korea announced its travel ban, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak issued a strong condemnation and said he was barring North Koreans from leaving. "This abhorrent act, effectively holding our citizens hostage, is in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms," Najib said in a statement.
Malaysian officials had initially said the ban would affect only North Korean Embassy staff and officials, but later expanded it to include all North Koreans. Police briefly cordoned off access to the embassy.
About 1,000 North Koreans are believed to be working in Malaysia. Before diplomatic ties broke down, Malaysia had been one of the few places in the world where North Koreans could travel without a visa. As a result, for years it's been a quiet destination for North Koreans looking for jobs, schools and business deals.