North Korean diplomats leaving Malaysia after ties severed

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) — North Korean diplomats vacated their embassy in Malaysia and prepared to leave the country yesterday, after the two nations cut diplomatic relations in a spat over the extradition of a North Korean criminal suspect to the United States (US).

The North Korean flag and embassy signage have been removed from the premises in a Kuala Lumpur suburb. Two buses ferried the diplomats and their families to the airport, where they were seen checking in for a flight to Shanghai.

Ties between North Korea and Malaysia have been virtually frozen since the 2017 assassination of the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Two days after Kuala Lumpur extradited a North Korean man to the US to face money laundering charges, a furious North Korea on Friday announced it was terminating ties with Malaysia. Malaysia denounced the decision and in a tit-for-tat response, gave North Korean diplomats 48 hours to leave.

Chargé d’affaires and councillor in Kuala Lumpur Kim Yu Song said Malaysia had “committed an unpardonable crime”. Echoing Pyongyang’s earlier statement, he accused Malaysia of being subservient to the US and being part of a US conspiracy aimed at “isolating and suffocating” his country.

“The Malaysian authority delivered our citizen to the US in the end, thus destroying the foundations of the bilateral relations based on respect of sovereignty,” he said in a short statement outside the embassy, before heading to the airport.

Counsellor at the North Korean Embassy to Malaysia Kim Yu Song reads out a statement outside the embassy in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: AP

North Korea has called the money laundering charges an “absurd fabrication and (a) sheer plot” orchestrated by the US and warned Washington will “pay a due price”.

Some experts said cutting ties with Malaysia was North Korea’s way of showing anger with US President Joe Biden’s administration, without jeopardising an eventual return to nuclear negotiations with Washington.

North Korea has insisted it won’t engage in talks with Washington unless it abandons what Pyongyang’s perceives as a “hostile” policy. But experts said North Korea will eventually seek to return to diplomacy to find ways to get sanctions relief and revive its moribund economy.

Malaysia has defended its move to extradite Mun Chol Myong, saying it was carried out only after all legal processes have been exhausted. A top court ruled Mun can be extradited after rejecting his appeal on grounds that the US charges were politically motivated.

Mun, who lived in Malaysia for a decade and arrested in May 2019, has denied US accusations that he was involved in supplying luxury goods from Singapore to North Korea in violation of United Nations (UN) sanctions while working in the city-state.

He denied laundering funds through front companies and issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to his country.