Fresh from a tit for tat move following Malaysia's decision to expel the North Korean ambassador, Pyongyang now has banned Malaysians there from leaving the country.
SEOUL: The North Korean regime says it will not allow Malaysian citizens to leave the country, hours after both countries sent home their ambassadors amid worsening ties.
“All Malaysian nationals in the DPRK will be temporarily prohibited from leaving the country until the incident that happened in Malaysia is properly solved,” the government-controlled Korea Central News Agency said, citing the foreign ministry.
In an immediate reaction, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the latest move was “tantamount to taking hostages”.
“This is unacceptable. DPRK must allow free passage of Malaysians at once,” he said on Twitter.
There are currently 11 Malaysians in North Korea, nine of whom are embassy staff and two who are part of the UN Food Programme.
On Saturday, Malaysia declared the North Korean ambassador, Kang Chol, a persona non grata. He returned to North Korea yesterday.
Ties between the two governments have been strained after Pyongyang protested an autopsy by Malaysian police on Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of the North Korean dictator, who was believed to have been murdered on Feb 13 at low-cost carrier terminal klia2.
North Korea has not acknowledged the dead man’s identity but has repeatedly criticised the murder investigation and autopsy, accusing Malaysia of conniving with “hostile forces”.
Kang was previously summoned by Wisma Putra for a dressing-down, with Prime Minister Najib Razak saying the ambassador’s statement was “diplomatically rude”.
Malaysia has also recalled its envoy to Pyongyang and cancelled a rare visa-free travel deal with North Korea.
The row has also extended to sport, with Malaysian football authorities banning the national team from playing an Asian Cup qualifying match in Pyongyang, citing security threats in the wake of the expulsion.