N. Korea declares Malaysian ambassador 'persona non grata'

Indo Asian News Service

Pyongyang, March 6 (IANS) In a tit for tat diplomatic hit-back, Pyongyang on Monday announced the Malaysian ambassador to North Korea as a "persona non grata", and demanded that the diplomat leave the country.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry on Sunday asked the Malaysian envoy to leave the country within 48 hours, Xinhua news agency reported.

The development came in a deepening row over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Malaysia on Saturday expelled North Korea's Ambassador Kang Chol over his criticism of the southeast Asian nation's probe into Kim's killing.

Before boarding a flight for Beijing, the main transit point toward Pyongyang, Kang on Monday voiced strong regrets over his expulsion, repeating the probe was biased.

Kang described his expulsion as an "extreme measure" that could undermine bilateral ties between North Korea and Malaysia, while arguing that he was "fair" in his criticism over Kuala Lumpur's investigation into the killing of Kim.

"They have conducted the autopsy without the consent of the North Korean embassy and later arrested a North Korean citizen without any clear evidence showing his involvement in the incident," Kang said.

Malaysia earlier this week cancelled a visa-free travel arrangement with Pyongyang in response to North Korea's criticism that Kuala Lumpur colluded with Seoul for its probe into the killing of Kim.

There is speculation that Malaysia is considering cutting off its diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, which have been maintained for more than 40 years.

The country also already announced on February 20 that it was recalling its ambassador to North Korea "for consultations".

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Monday said his country expelled Kang to defend its sovereignty and national pride.

According to Razak, the North Korean envoy should have apologised for making baseless allegations against Malaysia.

Kim died on February 13 at an airport in Kuala Lumpur after two Asian women allegedly smeared the banned chemical VX nerve agent on his face.

According to the Malaysian police, eight North Koreans are suspected of involvement in the death, along with two women.

Four North Korean suspects are believed to have fled Malaysia to Pyongyang on the day of Kim's death.

The Malaysian government on Monday also directed the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) not to send the national team to Pyongyang, where a match was scheduled to be held between the two sides.