Two Malaysians employed by the United Nations in North Korea have arrived in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur is working to secure the safe release of nine other citizens barred from leaving the communist state, Malaysia’s prime minister said Thursday.
The two U.N. World Food Program staffers left North Korea amid a diplomatic row that has escalated after the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother on Malaysian soil last month, and which has seen both countries impose exit bans on each other’s citizens.
“Stella Lim and Nyanaprakash Muniandy have both safely arrived in Beijing,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a Twitter message Thursday, referring to the two Malaysians working for the United Nations.
The World Food Program confirmed that the two had landed in the Chinese capital on Thursday.
“The staff members are international civil servants and not representatives of their national government. They work on WFP’s programs in DPR Korea,” the U.N. agency said in a statement sent to BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
tThe nine Malaysians who are still in North Korea consist of three staffers at Kuala Lumpur’s embassy in Pyongyang and their families, according to information from Malaysia’s foreign ministry earlier this week.
Late on Thursday, there was no official word on whether Malaysia would allow any North Korean citizens living or working on its territory to leave the country.
The remaining nine Malaysians were fine, Najib said in a Facebook post after he spoke by phone with Mohd Nor Azrin, the counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang.
“I would like to update that he, his family along with all of the other Malaysians in North Korea are safe, Alhamdulillah,” Najib said.
“I have given him my assurance that the government will do everything we can to ensure that they return home safely soon. The whole of Malaysia is praying for them,” he said.
The North Korean government has assured the safety of the Malaysians in Pyongyang and said they are “free to go about their daily lives,” the prime minister said.
The Feb. 13 assassination of Kim Jong Nam through poisoning with a banned nerve agent, according to Malaysian police, has rocked bilateral ties dating to 1973.
In addition to the mutual exit bans, Malaysia and North Korea this week expelled their respective ambassadors.
Malaysia kicked out North Korean envoy Kang Chol because he did not apologize for twice publicly lambasting a Malaysian police probe into Kim Jong Nam’s murder.
Meanwhile, authorities have arrested and charged two Southeast Asian women and identified seven North Korean nationals as suspects.
On Tuesday, Najib blamed North Korea’s regime for assassinating the half-brother of its dictator – marking the first time that a Malaysian official had made such an accusation. Officials in the United States and South Korea have also accused Pyongyang agents of being behind Kim’s murder.
“What we are facing now is the result of their action in assassinating their own citizen in Malaysia, on Malaysian soil, using a strictly banned chemical weapon,” the prime minister said.
The feud has centered on Malaysia’s refusal to release Kim’s body until his next-of-kin comes forward to claim the remains and give police a DNA sample needed for a positive identification.
Nearly a month after the assassination, no next-of-kin has come forward, according to Malaysian officials.
On Wednesday, a video of a young man claiming to be Kim’s son, emerged when a group calling itself Cheollima Civil Defense posted it online.
Cheollima Civil Defense claimed to look after North Korean citizens who seek protection. On its website, the group said it received “an emergency request by survivors of the family of Kim Jong Nam for extraction and protection.”
“My name is Kim Han Sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family. … My father has been killed a few days ago. I am currently with my mother and my sister, and we are very grateful. … We hope this gets better soon,” the young man said in the short and undated video clip, which was partly redacted.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.