KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia expelled North Korea’s ambassador on Saturday, giving him 48 hours to leave the country as a diplomatic row deepened over the assassination of the half-brother of Pyongyang’s leader.
“The expulsion of the DPRK [North Korea] ambassador is … an indication of the government’s concern that Malaysia may have been used for illegal activities,” Malaysia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
“The ambassador has been declared persona non grata” after Malaysia demanded but did not receive an apology over Pyongyang’s attack on its investigation of the case, the statement added.
“He is expected to leave Malaysia within 48 hours.”
The row erupted last month when Malaysian police rejected North Korean diplomats’ demands to hand over Kim’s body.
Ambassador Kang Chol reacted by saying that the investigation was politically motivated and that Kuala Lumpur was conspiring with “hostile forces”.
Malaysia then summoned Kang for a dressing-down over his accusation, with Prime Minister Najib Razak describing the ambassador’s statement as “totally uncalled for [and] diplomatically rude”.
Malaysia also recalled its envoy to Pyongyang and has cancelled a rare visa-free travel deal with North Korea, putting the skids under once cosy ties.
The rift widened on Thursday when a senior North Korean diplomat leading a delegation to Kuala Lumpur reiterated Pyongyang’s assertion that Kim had died of a heart attack, dismissing the use of a nerve agent.
The foreign ministry statement said that on Feb 28 the government had already issued Pyongyang a same-day deadline for a written apology over Kang’s accusations.
“No such apology has been made, neither has there been any indication that one is forthcoming,” it added.
“For this reason, the ambassador has been declared persona non grata.”
Kang’s expulsion order came the same day that the only North Korean arrested over the assassination denounced Malaysia’s probe as “a conspiracy to impair the dignity of the Republic [North Korea]”.
Ri Jong-Chol, who was released and deported on Friday due to lack of evidence, said that police had offered him a comfortable life in Malaysia in return for a false confession.
Ri’s release came days after two women — one Vietnamese and one Indonesian — were charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam. On Friday police issued an arrest warrant for a North Korean airline employee, Kim Uk II, 37, in connection with the murder.
They also requested that Hyon Kwang Song, second secretary at the North Korean embassy, assist the probe.
Both are believed to be in Malaysia. Four others are thought to have fled to Pyongyang on the day of the assassination.
South Korean and Japanese media, citing diplomatic sources, have reported that the US has been mulling placing the North back on its terror list, which includes Iran and Syria.
North Korea warned on Saturday the US will “pay dearly” if it blacklists Pyongyang over the killing.
“The US will keenly realise how dearly it has to pay for its groundless accusations against the dignified” North if it puts it back on the terror list, the regime’s foreign ministry spokesman told state-run newswire KCNA.