Malaysia-North Korea match postponed amid tensions

afc-aseancup2019KUALA LUMPUR: An Asian Cup qualifier between Malaysia and North Korea has been postponed, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced today, the latest casualty of souring diplomatic relations following the killing of Kim Jong Nam.

Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was poisoned with the deadly nerve agent VX in a brazen Cold War-style assassination at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 last month.

The killing triggered a bitter row between Malaysia and North Korea when Malaysian police rejected Pyongyang’s demands to hand over Kim’s body without a DNA test.

The Harimau Malaysia squad had been due to play in the North Korean capital on March 28 as a lead up to the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

But the fate of the match was thrown into doubt after Malaysian officials this week barred the team from playing in Pyongyang, citing security threats.

“The AFC Competitions Committee have taken the decision to postpone the tie after escalating diplomatic tension between the governments of DPR Korea and Malaysia,” the Asian Football Confederation said in a statement.

“A new date for the game will be announced in due course.”

North Korea has never confirmed the identity of the dead man, but has denounced the Malaysian investigation as an attempt to smear the secretive regime, insisting that he most likely died of a heart attack.

The row has seen the two previously friendly countries expel each other’s ambassador and refuse to let their citizens leave.

Three Malaysian embassy staff and six family members remain stuck in Pyongyang after North Korea barred Malaysians from leaving the country on Tuesday, prompting a tit-for-tat move by Malaysia.

South Korea has blamed the North for Jong Nam’s murder, citing what it says was a standing order from Jong Un to kill his exiled half-brother, who may have been seen as a potential rival.