Updated at 2:35 p.m. ET on 2017-03-06
Ties between Malaysia and North Korea further frayed on Monday over the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, with mutual expulsion of ambassadors and the Malaysian football team’s scrubbing plans for playing an Asia Cup qualifying match in Pyongyang.
Before boarding a flight to Beijing on Monday night, North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol got in a parting shot over Malaysia’s investigation into the Feb. 13 murder of Kim Jong Nam at a Kuala Lumpur area airport – the kind of criticism that led the Malaysian government to declare the envoy “persona non grata” and order his expulsion two days earlier.
As Kang flew out of the country, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry condemned North Korea’s launch of four ballistic missiles earlier in the day, and the North Korean state news agency reported that Malaysia’s ambassador to Pyongyang was now unwelcome and officially declared “persona non grata” by the communist state’s foreign ministry.
The Malaysian envoy had 48 hours to leave North Korea, the item in the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, but without explaining why or mentioning that Kuala Lumpur’s ambassador had in fact exited the country following his recall in late February. On Monday, Malaysia also officially terminated a policy that allowed North Korean citizens to enter the Southeast Asian nation without a visa, another feature of long-standing bilateral relations that have deteriorated since the assassination.
Kang Chol along with his wife and granddaughter boarded the flight out of Malaysia as a 48-hour deadline for his mandatory departure expired.
“I express grave concern over the extreme measures taken by the Malaysian government doing great harm to the bilateral relations, which has a history of more than 40 years,” Kang told journalists, as police escorted him into the airport’s departure hall when he arrived there from the North Korean embassy at around 4:30 p.m.
The ambassador had angered Malaysian officials for twice publicly criticizing the integrity of a police investigation into the Feb. 13 assassination of Kim Jong Nam at a Kuala Lumpur area airport, where he was fatally poisoned with a banned chemical agent, according to Malaysian authorities.
The ambassador had accused the Malaysian government of “colluding with hostile forces” in the probe – a clear reference to South Korea. He also had criticized local authorities for refusing a North Korean request to hand over Kim’s body without an autopsy.
“The statements I have made were an expression of the righteous stand as the ambassador of the DPRK in this country on the pre-targeted investigation by the Malaysian police as they have conducted the autopsy without the consent and attendance of the DPRK embassy, and later arrested a DPRK citizen without any clear evidence showing his involvement in the incident,” Kang told reporters at the airport, through an interpreter.
‘They should have apologized’
The decision by Malaysia to expel Kang came after he was a no-show for a meeting at the foreign ministry where he was summoned Saturday evening, and after North Korean officials failed to meet a Feb. 28 deadline for apologizing for the ambassador’s critical remarks, according to Malaysia’s foreign minister.
“They should have apologized. So based on principles, we have declared him persona non grata,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters Monday, according to Reuters.
“There is no one who could undermine us or disrupt us as they please,” he said.
When Kuala Lumpur announced Saturday that it was expelling Pyongyang’s envoy, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman warned North Korean officials to refrain from criticizing Malaysia even more.
On Monday evening, his ministry issued a strongly worded statement in response to the latest North Korean ballistic missile shots, three of which reportedly came down in waters off Japan.
The launches were a “flagrant violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions and undermined global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, the ministry said.
“This action has fueled regional tensions and again demonstrates the DPRK’s disregard for the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula, the region and the world in general,” it said.
Is it safe?
In the afternoon, the Football Association of Malaysia announced the national team’s cancellation of plans to play the North Korean team in Pyongyang in a match scheduled for March 28, citing “security reasons.”
Hamidin Mohd Amin, the association’s secretary general said the decision to kick out Kang Chol had made it unsafe for Malaysians to visit North Korea at this time. The association, however, has put in an application with the Asian Football Confederation requesting that the match against North Korea be moved to a neutral venue, Hamidin said.
Meanwhile, two Southeast Asian women are in Malaysian custody as suspected assassins in the investigation into Kim’s murder, and Malaysian authorities have identified seven North Korean citizens as wanted for questioning in the case, including Hyon Kwang Song, the second secretary at Pyongyang’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Apart from Hyon and the six other wanted North Koreans, Malaysia arrested another North Korean man as a suspect but released and deported him last week, citing a lack of evidence.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.