TEN­SIONS ES­CA­LATE

Tit-for-tat or­ders bar cit­i­zens of both coun­tries from leav­ing

New Straits Times - - News - THE NST TEAM KUALA LUMPUR news@nst.com.my

TEN­SIONS be­tween Malaysia and North Korea es­ca­lated yes­ter­day in dra­matic fash­ion when Py­ongyang banned Malaysians from leav­ing the iso­lated coun­try.

Soon af­ter the her­mit king­dom’s de­ci­sion, Malaysia im­posed a sim­i­lar ban on North Korean cit­i­zens in the coun­try.

The North de­cided to “tem­po­rar­ily ban the exit of Malaysian cit­i­zens in the DPRK”, the Korea Cen­tral News Agency re­ported, cit­ing its For­eign Min­istry.

The pro­hi­bi­tion would re­main in place “un­til the safety of the diplo­mats and cit­i­zens of the DPRK in Malaysia is fully guar­an­teed through the fair set­tle­ment of the case that oc­curred in Malaysia”.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak, in a blog post af­ter chair­ing an emer­gency Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing, said the fo­cus now would be to en­sure the safety of Malaysians in North Korea.

He promised that the gov­ern­ment would do what­ever nec­es­sary and pos­si­ble to bring them back safely.

Na­jib chaired the meet­ing im­me­di­ately upon his re­turn from Jakarta yes­ter­day evening.

Ear­lier in Jakarta, in an im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion to news of North Korea’s move, he called the travel ban tan­ta­mount to hostage-tak­ing and added that he had given in­struc­tions that North Kore­ans be barred from leav­ing Malaysia.

“This ab­hor­rent act, ef­fec­tively hold­ing our cit­i­zens hostage, is in to­tal dis­re­gard for in­ter­na­tional law and diplo­matic norms,” he said af­ter at­tend­ing a sum­mit of the In­dian Ocean Rim As­so­ci­a­tion.

There are 11 known Malaysians in North Korea. Four of them are em­bassy staff, five are fam­ily mem­bers of em­bassy staff and two are part of a United Na­tions food pro­gramme.

It has yet to be de­ter­mined if there are other Malaysians in North Korea for busi­ness or leisure.

Ten­sions be­tween both coun­tries started ris­ing when North Korean am­bas­sador to Malaysia Kang Chol made dis­parag­ing re­marks about Malaysia’s han­dling of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the mur­der of Kim Jong-nam.

He was de­clared per­sona non grata and expelled.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, as for­eign news agen­cies picked up the KCNA re­port, Malaysians be­gan ex­press­ing out­rage on cy­berspace.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ah­mad Zahid Hamidi swiftly an­nounced that North Korean em­bassy staff would not be al­lowed to leave the com­pound nor the coun­try.

“We don’t wish to re­tal­i­ate, but this is what we have to do when a coun­try with whom Malaysia has diplo­matic ties with does some­thing that is out of the diplo­matic norm. Malaysia has no choice but to take the same ac­tion be­cause they (North Korea) have ma­nip­u­lated the mur­der case that oc­curred at klia2.”

Fol­low­ing the press con­fer­ence, po­lice teams were despatched to the North Korean em­bassy, where a cor­don was set up at both ends of the road, manned by a dozen or so armed po­lice­men in bul­let­proof vests.

Pa­trol cars were also used to set up a bar­ri­cade in front of the em­bassy’s gates, bar­ring any­one from leav­ing.

At least one at­tempt was made by em­bassy of­fi­cials to leave, but the driver of the ve­hi­cle they were in headed back to the main en­trance of the build­ing af­ter see­ing the block­ade.

Not long af­ter that, the block­ade was re­moved and em­bassy of­fi­cials were al­lowed to leave.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Ja­zlan Mo­hamed said the bar­ri­cade was only tem­po­rary, un­til the ex­act num­ber of em­bassy staff could be de­ter­mined.

In Ge­orge Town, In­spec­torGen­eral of Po­lice Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said three North Kore­ans wanted in con­nec­tion with Jong-nam’s mur­der were holed up in the North Korean em­bassy.

He said po­lice would wait for the three men to come out, even if it took five years.

Iron­i­cally, Py­ongyang’s de­ci­sion yes­ter­day did what few have man­aged — unite mem­bers of par­lia­ment from both sides of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide. Barisan Na­sional and op­po­si­tion mem­bers of par­lia­ment were united in sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the is­sue.

Malaysia also re­ceived the sup­port of the United States.

“We con­demn in the strong­est terms the use of chem­i­cal weapons. We urge North Korea to ad­here to the Vi­enna Con­ven­tion (on diplo­matic re­la­tions),” said a US em­bassy spokesman.

The spokesman’s ref­er­ence to chem­i­cal weapons was based on the tox­i­col­ogy re­port on tests con­ducted on medico-le­gal sam­ples taken from the re­mains of Jong-nam in which it was re­vealed that he had been killed with a dose of the highly-lethal VX nerve agent.

North Korea has re­jected this find­ing and crit­i­cised Malaysian po­lice’s han­dling of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It also ac­cused Malaysia of col­lud­ing with hos­tile na­tions, mean­ing South Korea and the US, and of go­ing against in­ter­na­tional law and diplo­matic con­ven­tion. Page 1 pic: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak chair­ing an emer­gency meet­ing of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang, Se­lan­gor, yes­ter­day.

BERNAMA PIC

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak speak­ing af­ter a sum­mit of the In­dian Ocean Rim As­so­ci­a­tion in Jakarta yes­ter­day.

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