Malaysia: "We have no plans to cut diplomatic ties with North Korea"

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By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS
Malaysia: "We have no plans to cut diplomatic ties with North Korea"

Malaysia says it has no plans to cut diplomatic ties with North Korea despite a rise in tensions since the killing of a man thought to be the North Korean leader’s half-brother.

Pyongyang barred Malaysians from leaving the country on Tuesday, sparking a tit-for-tat action by Malaysia. The growing row follows the murder of a man said to be Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13.

Malaysia’s outrage over the killing of Kim Jong Nam has been intensified by the use of the nerve agent VX, a chemical so toxic that it is on a UN list of weapons of mass destruction.

The UN has called for calm between both countries and has urged them to settle their differences through “established diplomatic practice”.

What Malaysia says

“At the moment, they (diplomatic ties) are still on, because that provides us with a channel,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said outside parliament.

“We are one of a very few countries that have been very fair to North Korea, quite friendly to them,” he added.

“We did not pick a quarrel with them, but when a crime has been committed, especially when chemical weapons have been used in Malaysia, we are duty-bound to protect the interest of Malaysians.”

Najib also sought to give reassurances that the 11 Malaysians in North Korea are not under threat and he is trying to determine the isolated North’s demands in exchange for lifting the travel ban.

What North Korea says

North Korean Ambassador Kang Choi has arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport a few hours ahead of the deadline set by Malaysia for him to leave the country.

North Korea has refused to accept that the victim of the February 13 murder at the airport was the half-brother of leader Kim Jong Un. The country’s ambassador has accused Najib’s government of colluding with external forces and says the investigation should not be trusted.

“The statements I made to reporters were an expression of my righteous stand as the ambassador of the DPRK to Malaysia, as its government conducted the autopsy without the consent and attendance of the DPRK embassy officials and later arrested our citizen without any clear evidence showing his involvement in the incident,” the ambassador said, speaking at the airport before his departure for Beijing.

“I express grave concern and regret over the extreme measures taken by the Malaysian government, as it is doing great harm to the friendly bilateral relations which have a history of more than 40 years.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak branded Ambassador Kang “diplomatically rude” and, angered by a lack of apology, the Malaysian government gave him 48 hours to leave the country from Saturday night.

Has anyone been arrested?

So far, prosecutors in Malaysia have charged an Indonesian woman and a Vietnamese woman for the murder of Kim Jong Nam.

However, police have identified eight North Koreans, including a senior embassy official and state airline employee, whom they want to question as part of the investigation.

They say four of the North Koreans they want to interview left Malaysia in the hours after the murder.

Only one North Korean suspect, Ri Jong Choi, has been apprehended. However, he was released after several days in custody due to insufficient evidence.