Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned North Korea on Tuesday (07/03) for preventing his country’s citizens from leaving, saying the isolated nation is “effectively holding Malaysians hostage.”
North Korean state news agency KCNA reported on Tuesday that a temporary ban was placed on Malaysian citizens from leaving North Korea, and that it is expected to last “until the safety of the diplomats and citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Malaysia is fully guaranteed.”
“This abhorrent act, effectively holding our citizens hostage, is in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms,” Razak said in a statement.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry is expecting a “fair settlement of the case that occurred in Malaysia” – indirectly referring to the assassination of North Korean leader’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.
Investigations conducted by the Royal Malaysian Police following the murder revealed that the assassins used VX nerve agent, a chemical listed by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.
Eight North Koreans are wanted in connection with the murder, while a Vietnamese woman – Doan Thi Huong – and an Indonesian woman – Siti Aisyah – were charged last Wednesday for their alleged involvement.
Reuters reported that wanted North Koreans include a senior North Korean diplomat and a state airline employee, with three believed to be hiding inside the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
In response to the ban, Razak summoned an emergency meeting of the National Security Council.
“I have also instructed the inspector general of police to prevent all North Korean citizens in Malaysia from leaving the country,” Razak said.
Razak called upon the North Korean leadership to allow Malaysian citizens to immediately leave the country “to avoid any further escalation.”
The North Korean Foreign Ministry expelled the Malaysian ambassador to the country on Sunday. However, the Malaysia government already recalled him on Feb. 20.
North Korea’s actions are seen as retaliation after Malaysia expelled North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol on Monday after he made accusation against Kuala Lumpur in connection with the murder of Kim Jong-nam.
Prior to the case, Malaysia was one of the few countries that still had diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Malaysia’s decision to prohibit officers and staff in the North Korean Embassy from leaving the country were seen as necessary in response to North Korea’s actions.
“We don’t intend to have any retaliation but this must be done when a country that has diplomatic relations with Malaysia takes action outside the diplomatic etiquettes and convention,” Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said, as quoted by state-run news agency Bernama.
Zahid said Malaysia wanted to send a clear message to North Korea not to undermine it as a sovereign state, emphasizing that the directive only applies to officials and staff of the North Korean Embassy, and not tourists or any other North Koreans.
He added that Malaysia will take action based on the Geneva Convention, saying that North Korea “cannot direct our citizen not to leave.”