Malaysia to play N Korea in Pyongyang despite security fears


PETALING JAYA: The Asian Cup qualifying match between North Korea and Malaysia has been fixed to be held in Pyongyang despite earlier concerns of security threats due to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

In a brief statement today, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said the match is now scheduled to be held on June 8.

It said the decision was made following confirmation from the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) that “no government travel restrictions are in place.”

The match was originally scheduled for March 28 but was postponed due to a standoff between the two governments following the assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia2) on Feb13.

The estranged elder half-brother of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un died after two women accosted him and allegedly smeared his face with the deadly VX nerve agent.

The situation escalated when North Korea then barred Malaysians there from leaving the country.

Malaysia responded by imposing the same restriction on North Koreans on its shores, including three men wanted for questioning over the killing but who were holed up in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Both countries also expelled each other’s ambassadors.

In early March, Malaysia barred its team from playing the Group B match in Pyongyang, citing security concerns.

The nine Malaysians trapped in the autocratic nation’s capital were eventually allowed to return home on March 31.

Jong Nam’s body was also repatriated to North Korea the same day, accompanied by the three North Korean nationals.

On April 25, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) said the government was still insistent that the match be played at a neutral venue, citing the “geopolitical tension between North Korea and other countries which is getting worse”.

The North Korean Football Association had meanwhile sent a note to ask the AFC to hold it in Pyongyang and guaranteed security for the Malaysian team.

The match is part of the lead-up to the Asian Cup tournament to be held in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

This will be the two countries’ first match in the qualifying round. The other teams in Group B are Lebanon and Hong Kong.