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N Korea expels Malaysian ambassador in tit-for-tat move

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo shows Malaysia’s ambassador to North Korea, Mohammad Nizan.

North Korea has labelled the Malaysian ambassador to Pyongyang as “persona non grata” and ordered him to leave the country “within 48 hours,” in an apparent tit-for-tat move after the Southeast Asian nation expelled the North’s top envoy in an unprecedented diplomatic row, which broke out between the two sides over the recent bizarre assassination of the North Korean leader’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur.

“The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK [the Democratic People's Republic of Korea] notifies that” the expulsion of Mohammad Nizan, Malaysia's top envoy to Pyongyang, has been demanded “under a relevant article of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” said a brief statement carried by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Monday.

Kuala Lumpur had already recalled Nizan “for consultations” on February 20, a week after Kim Jong-nam, the North Korean leader’s exiled half-brother, was attacked by two female assailants at the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The attackers, both of whom have been arrested, wiped some form of toxic liquid over Kim’s face. He died en route to the hospital.

Forensic research and autopsy on Kim’s body revealed that the female attackers had wiped the extremely toxic VX nerve agent over the victim’s face. The United Nations has declared VX a weapon of mass destruction.

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Pyongyang has censured Malaysia for performing an “immoral and illegal” autopsy on the dead body of “a citizen” of North Korea “bearing a diplomatic passport” without acknowledging the dead man's identity. The country vehemently protested the probe and questioned its validity, claiming Malaysia is in cahoots with its enemies.

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Expelled North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol speaks to journalists outside the departure hall of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on March 6, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The KCNA report came shortly after Kang Chol, the North’s expelled envoy to Malaysia, flew home from Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian Foreign Ministry had declared Kang as persona non grata on Saturday for his harsh attacks on the probe into the murder case and not apologizing. Pyongyang’s top envoy, however, fired his final salvo from the same airport where Kim was killed, lambasting what he called a “pre-targeted investigation by the Malaysian police.”

“They have conducted the autopsy without the consent and attendance of the DPRK embassy and later arrested a DPRK citizen without any clear evidence showing his involvement in the incident,” Kang further told reporters, as he was escorted by police to the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“I express grave concern over the extreme measures taken by the Malaysian government, doing great harm to the bilateral relations which have a history of more than 40 years,” he concluded.

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Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, for his part, rebuked Pyongyang for its treatment of Kuala Lumpur’s investigation into the case, describing Kang as “diplomatically rude.”

“They should have apologized. So based on principles, we have declared him persona non grata,” Najib said, defending his government’s decision. “There is no one who can undermine us or disrupt us as they please,” he further told reporters at parliament.

The file photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) and his murdered half-brother Kim Jong-nam.

In response to the North’s sharp critique of Malaysia’s probe into the controversial assassination case, Kuala Lumpur canceled visa-free entry for North Koreans last Thursday, citing “national security reasons.”

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Meanwhile, Malaysia's soccer association says the government has prevented the national team from traveling to the North for a fixture because of security concerns. Kuala Lumpur had been scheduled to face Pyongyang on March 28 for the Asian Cup 2019 qualifying match.

South Korea's police claim that Kim was killed by North Korean agents, an allegation that Kuala Lumpur has yet neither confirmed nor denied. Pyongyang, however, has flatly denied Seoul's allegations.

The assassination of Kim and subsequent developments have greatly soured relations between Malaysia and North Korea, which had had warm and full mutual ties, and seems likely to lead to an all-out diplomatic rift.

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