North Korea orders Malaysian ambassador out after its own envoy is expelled
North Korea’s expelled ambassador fired a final salvo at Malaysia on Monday over its investigation into the assassination of the half-brother of Pyongyang’s leader, describing the probe as biased.
Speaking at Kuala Lumpur International Airport before his flight left, ambassador Kang Chol criticised what he called a “pretargeted investigation by the Malaysian police”.
The murder of Kim Jong-nam with VX nerve agent at the same airport last month sparked an acrimonious dispute between the two countries.
Watch: Malaysia and North Korea send envoys packing
North Korea retaliated late on Monday by ordering Malaysia’s ambassador to Pyongyang to leave within 48 hours, the North’s official media reported. The diplomat had already been withdrawn by his own government for consultations.
“The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK [North Korea] notifies that the Malaysian ambassador to the DPRK is labelled as a persona non grata ... and demanded that the ambassador leave the DPRK,” state news agency KCNA said, giving a 48-hour deadline.
North Korea has not acknowledged the dead man’s identity but has repeatedly criticised the murder investigation and autopsy, accusing Malaysia of conniving with its enemies.
“They have conducted the autopsy without the consent and attendance of the DPRK [North Korea] embassy and later arrested a DPRK citizen without any clear evidence showing his involvement in the incident,” ambassador Kang said.
On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the decision to expel Kang sent a clear message.
“It means that we are firm in defending our sovereignty and dignity,” Najib said. “Don’t ever insult our country and don’t try to cause disruptions here.”
South Korea has blamed the North for the murder. It cites what it says was a standing order from leader Kim Jong-un to kill his exiled half-brother, who may have been seen as a potential rival.
In a sign of the security tensions police armed with assault rifles had cordoned off the entrance to North Korea’s embassy before the envoy left.
Kang departed in a black chauffeured Jaguar – the North Korean flag which denotes an ambassador now removed from its bonnet. He checked in a Philips TV, three suitcases and four boxes vacuum-wrapped and stamped with the words, DPRK Pyongyang.
Senior government officials said he left at 18.25 (1025 GMT) on flight MH360 for Beijing, shortly after the deadline for his expulsion at 1800.
Malaysia declared Kang persona non grata on Saturday and gave him 48 hours to leave the country after he failed to apologise for his criticism of the investigation.
The diplomatic dispute erupted last month when police rejected North Korean diplomats’ demands to hand over Kim’s body.
Kang then claimed the investigation was politically motivated and said Kuala Lumpur was conspiring with “hostile forces” – a reference to the North’s arch-rival, Seoul.
Malaysia summoned Kang for a dressing-down, with Najib saying the ambassador’s statement was “diplomatically rude”.
The row also extended to sport, with Malaysian football authorities banning the national team from playing an Asian Cup qualifying match in Pyongyang – citing security threats in the wake of the expulsion.
Police are seeking seven North Korean suspects in their probe, four of whom left Malaysia on the day of the murder. But on Friday they released the only North Korean they had arrested for lack of evidence.
Two women – one Vietnamese and one Indonesian – have been charged with the actual murder. Airport CCTV footage shows them approaching the heavyset 45-year-old and apparently smearing his face with a cloth.
Police say he suffered a seizure and died less than 20 minutes later. Swabs of the dead man’s face revealed traces of the VX nerve agent.
Additional reporting by Associated Press