N.Korea slaps temporary exit ban on Malaysians

Indo Asian News Service

Seoul, March 7 (IANS) North Korea on Tuesday issued a temporary ban on all Malaysians from leaving the country, amid a diplomatic row between the two countries over the death of Pyongyang leader's half brother in Kuala Lumpur, a media report said.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in the report said the Foreign Ministry notified the Malaysian Embassy in Pyongyang that it will not permit Malaysians staying in North Korea to leave the country until the safety of North Korean diplomats and citizens in Malaysia is "fully guaranteed through the fair settlement of the case".

It said that Malaysians in North Korea will be able to live normally under the same conditions as they did before, despite Pyongyang's interim ban, Yonhap News Agency reported.

In a tit-for-tar response, the Malaysian Government has also banned North Korean embassy staff and officers from leaving the country.

"We don't mean to do this, but it needs to be done," The Star daily reported citing Malaysian Home Affairs minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying in a media briefing.

"The Home Ministry has made a ruling, effective immediately, that not one staff member or officer of the (North Korean) embassy can leave the country...This will be made effective at all immigration exits nationwide," he added.

Ahmad Zahid also confirmed that the travel ban only applies to the diplomatic staff, and that that regular North Korean citizens in Malaysia will be allowed to leave the country.

Immediately after his announcement, police surrounded and cordoned off the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

A total of 11 Malaysians including three embassy staff and their families, are stranded in Pyongyang, says Deputy Foreign Minister Reezal Merican Naina Merican.

In a statement, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said he condemned in the strongest terms possible, North Korea's decision to prevent its citizens from leaving the country, and has summoned an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, The Star daily said.

The move came after the Malaysian government expelled the North Korean ambassador on Monday following the murder of Kim Jong-un's half brother Kim Jong-Nam who was killed on February 13 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport using the VX nerve agent.

Malaysia also cancelled its visa-waiver programme with North Korea last week and kicked out North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol in reaction to North Korea's "diplomatically rude" remarks.