Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has strongly condemned North Korea’s move to bar Malaysians from leaving the country, saying it is “effectively holding our citizens hostage.”
Najib said in a statement issued Tuesday that he has instructed police to prevent all North Korean citizens from leaving Malaysia “until we are assured of the safety and security of all Malaysians in North Korea.” Earlier, Malaysian officials had said Malaysia’s travel ban was limited to North Korean Embassy officials and staff.
Pyongyang issued its ban earlier Tuesday. Malaysia has said it affects 11 of its citizens currently in North Korea. There are believed to be some 1,000 North Koreans working in Malaysia.
Relations between the countries have been disintegrating since Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korea’s leader, was attacked with a nerve agent at a Kuala Lumpur airport terminal February 13.
Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur had unusually strong links for years, but have been set at loggerheads by the killing of the half-brother of leader Kim Jong-Un by two women using VX nerve agent.
Seoul has blamed Pyongyang for the assassination, and Kuala Lumpur has sought several North Koreans for questioning, although the only one it arrested was released for lack of evidence.
A Malaysian official says the country is preventing North Korean diplomats from leaving because Pyongyang “manipulated” the murder case involving the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi says Malaysia did not want to retaliate but added, “When we are confronted with a country that has breached international diplomatic norms and ethics, we have no choice.”
He said Malaysia was forced to act because North Korea had “manipulated what we call a murder case.”
Malaysia expelled the North’s ambassador as diplomatic tensions soared, and Pyongyang retaliated yesterday by formally ordering out his counterpart -- who had already been recalled for consultations.
According to KCNA, Pyongyang’s foreign ministry expressed hopes that the Malaysian government would solve the issue in a “fair and timely manner based on goodwill”.
Malaysian diplomats and nationals in the North would be allowed to “conduct business and live normally” while the travel ban is in place, it added.