‘Move to send Ramlan to discuss with North a step in right direction’
The government’s decision to send Foreign Ministry secretary-general Datuk Ramlan Ibrahim to talk terms with North Korea to ensure the safety and release of Malaysians stranded in the reclusive state is a step in the right direction, analysts say.
Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies adjunct senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun said sending a professional diplomat such as Ramlan was “the right move”.
Oh, who is former political secretary to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, said discussion points could include the freedom of the Malaysians to leave North Korea and the reciprocal lifting of the ban against North Koreans leaving Malaysia.
He said the discussion could delve into the course of action for Kim Jong-nam’s remains — whether they should be transferred to North Korean hands or not.
“They could also deliberate on the conclusions of the investigation into (Jong-nam’s) death as well as a stop to North Korean diatribes against Malaysia,” he said.
Oh said if direct negotiations failed, mediation could be the next option. This would be typically done by a trusted third country, such as Switzerland, as well as neutral international organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“A third and neutral country providing ‘good office’ could mean that they send a senior diplomat or politicians to mediate or they could provide a location, such as Geneva,” he added.
International affairs expert Associate Professor Dr Ahmad Martadha Mohamed of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) said closed-door discussions were the best avenue to avert conflict between the two governments.
“Both parties have vested interests to not prolong and escalate this conflict and, thus, a high-level delegation should meet and discuss diplomatic solutions to the crisis. I am sure our delegation will be welcomed by the North Korean government,” he added.
Both governments had been entangled in a diplomatic row following the assassination of Jongnam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at klia2 last month.
The regime had criticised Malaysia’s handling of the case, leading to the expulsion of the North’s ambassador to Malaysia. Pyongyang retaliated by expelling the Malaysian ambassador.
Pyongyang then declared that Malaysians in North Korea would not be allowed to leave, prompting Kuala Lumpur to bar North Koreans from leaving Malaysia.
Of the 11 Malaysians known to be in North Korea, two have left the country. The two were involved in a United Nations food aid programme.
The other nine are staffers at the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang and their family members.