Malaysia on Saturday declared North Korea’s ambassador “persona non grata” and said it was expelling him for publically criticizing a Malaysian investigation into the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother.
The foreign ministry gave Ambassador Kang Chol 48 hours to leave the country, a deadline that is set to expire at 6 p.m. Monday (local time) according to a statement from Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman. The ministry also barred Kang from re-entering Malaysia.
The move to further downgrade bilateral relations with North Korea following the Feb. 13 assassination of Kim Jong Nam at a local airport happened after Ambassador Kang Chol failed to show up Saturday night at the Malaysian foreign ministry, where officials had summoned him for a 6 p.m. meeting, the minister said.
Kang’s expulsion came about because North Korea did not meet a deadline on the evening of Feb. 28 to respond to a Malaysian demand for an apology over the envoy’s critical remarks, Anifah indicated.
On Tuesday, a senior representative of the ministry and other foreign affairs officials met with a high-level delegation that had been sent from North Korea, and demanded that Pyongyang provide a written apology for the criticism made by its ambassador, according to Anifah’s statement.
“Almost four days have passed since the deadline lapsed. No such apology has been made, neither has there been any indication that one is forthcoming. For this reason, the Ambassador has been declared Persona Non Grata,” Malaysia’s top diplomat said.
This status “is the most serious form of disapproval that the country can apply to foreign diplomats,” he said, adding it was also “often used to express displeasure at the conduct or policies of the sending State.”
The minister also sent North Korea a warning.
“It should be made clear – Malaysia will react strongly against insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation,” he said.
Diplomatic note sent
At around 9:30 p.m. Saturday, an unidentified official from the Malaysian foreign ministry was seen by reporters delivering an official letter to the North Korean embassy informing Pyongyang that Malaysia was expelling Ambassador Kang.
Officials at the embassy did not pick up phone calls from BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, and none appeared at the embassy’s gate, outside which reporters had gathered, to comment on Malaysia’s expulsion of the ambassador.
The announcement followed Malaysia’s deportation a day earlier of a North Korean man, Ri Jong Chol, after he was released from police custody for lack of evidence as a suspect in Kim’s assassination.
Malaysian authorities have arrested and charged an Indonesian woman and a Vietnamese woman as suspected assassins, and have identified seven other North Korean citizens wanted for questioning by police in the case.
The seven include Hyon Kwang Song, 44, a second secretary who is stationed at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
On Friday, two senior Malaysian officials told BenarNews that the government was weighing the possibility of declaring both Hyon Kwang Song and Ambassador Kang “persona non grata” in connection with Kim’s assassination.
After Saturday’s announcement, the government could also declare the second secretary “persona non grata” if the North Korean embassy failed to respond to an earlier request by Malaysia that Hyon Kwang Song assist local police with the investigation, another senior Malaysian official who is close to the case told BenarNews.
Experts praise move
On two occasions since Kim Jong Nam died in the attack in which his assassins poisoned him with a banned nerve agent, according to Malaysian police, Pyongyang’s ambassador appeared before reporters to question the integrity of the investigation.
He also accused Kuala Lumpur of “colluding with hostile forces” to malign North Korea – an obvious reference to South Korea.
U.S. and South Korean officials have blamed North Korean agents for masterminding Kim’s murder, according to Reuters.
“I think it is the right time that the Malaysian government took the persona non-grata action. The North Korean ambassador was seen as attempting to interfere with the police investigation and gave press statements that were slanderous against Malaysia,” Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, a professor of international relations at Universiti Utara Malaysia, told BenarNews late Saturday.
The criticism leveled against Malaysia by the ambassador “challenges the sovereignty of the country,” commented Azmi Ibrahim, a professor of geo-politics.
“The allegations had violated diplomacy norms and were expressed publicly through media and not through diplomatic means. In order to defend the dignity of the country and to avoid further accusations, the decision of expulsion matches the outspokenness of the ambassador,” Azmi told BenarNews.
So far, the diplomatic fallout from Kim’s assassination has seen the Malaysian government recall its ambassador to Pyongyang and cancel a policy allowing North Koreans to enter Malaysia without a visa.
The decision to scrub the policy “is an indication of the government’s concern that Malaysia may have been used for illegal activities,” Anifah Aman said in his statement Saturday.
The ministry issued a separate statement earlier in the day, in which it rejected allegations “insinuating” that Malaysia had not complied with U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against Pyongyang, by allowing two North Korean-controlled companies to use a Malaysian front company to sell battlefield radio equipment in violation of those sanctions.
“Malaysia categorically rejects any such insinuation” and “highly values the important work being carried out by the UNSC Sanctions Committee” regarding North Korea,” the ministry said, responding to allegations contained in a story broken by Reuters.
Malaysia was “fully cooperating” with a panel of Security Council experts and had provided it with required responses to its queries, the ministry added.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.