KUALA LUMPUR: North Korean diplomats in Malaysia shuttered their embassy and flew out of the country on Sunday (Mar 21), after Pyongyang severed diplomatic ties over the extradition of a citizen to the United States.
The North Korean flag and embassy signage have been removed from the premises in a Kuala Lumpur suburb and the gates were chained up.
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.
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 that 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.
Kim Yu Song, the charge d’affaires and counsellor in Kuala Lumpur, said Malaysia had “committed an unpardonable crime”. Echoing Pyongyang’s earlier statement, he accused Malaysia of being subservient to the US and of being part of a US conspiracy aimed at “isolating and suffocating” his country.
“This incident made by the Malaysian authority constitutes an undisguised alignment with and direct engagement in the anti-DPRK hostile manoeuvre of the United States which seeks to deprive our state of its sovereignty and rights to existence and development,” he said in a short statement outside the embassy, before heading to the airport.
“Not content with putting our innocent citizen in the dock by blindly (favouring) with the US – the principal enemy of our state – the Malaysian authority delivered our citizen to the US in the end, thus destroying the entire foundation of the bilateral relations based on the respect for sovereignty.”
“The Malaysian authority will bear full responsibility for all the consequences to be incurred between the two countries,” he added.
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”.
A group of North Koreans and their family members departed from the embassy on a bus. They arrived later at Kuala Lumpur airport, loaded stacks of luggage onto trolleys and went to check in at the counters used by regular passengers.
Kim confirmed to AFP the group, about 30-strong, was heading first to Shanghai. Their flight for the city departed in the afternoon, although it was not clear how or when they would travel on to North Korea.
Some experts say cutting ties with Malaysia was North Korea’s way of showing anger with President Joe Biden’s administration, without jeopardising an eventual return to nuclear negotiations with Washington.
North Korea has insisted it would not engage in talks with Washington unless it abandons what Pyongyang’s perceives as a “hostile” policy. But experts say North Korea will eventually seek to return to diplomacy to find ways to get sanctions relief and revive its moribund economy.
EXTRADITION TO THE US
Malaysia has defended its move to extradite Mun Chol Myong, saying it was carried out only after all legal processes had 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 was 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 sanctions while working in Singapore.
He denied laundering funds through front companies and issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to his country.
North Korea has long used Malaysia as a crucial economic hub where it handled trade, labour exports and some illicit businesses in Southeast Asia, but their relations suffered major setbacks over the 2017 killing of Kim Jong Nam.
Two women – one Indonesian and the other Vietnamese – were charged with colluding with four North Koreans to murder Kim Jong Nam by smearing his face with VX nerve agent. The four North Koreans fled Malaysia the day Kim died. The two women were later released.
Malaysian officials never officially accused North Korea of involvement in Kim Jong Nam’s death, but prosecutors made it clear throughout the trial that they suspected a North Korean connection.
North Korea denied the victim was Kim Jong Nam and disputed it had any role in the man’s death. Longtime North Korea watchers believe Kim Jong Un ordered his brother’s killing as part of efforts to remove potential rivals and cement his grip on power.