11 Malaysians stranded in Pyongyang: Report

11 Malaysians stranded in Pyongyang: Report

Some of the Malaysians were at Pyongyang airport after they were initially told to leave the country, but they were then barred from leaving by the authorities.

File picture of Pyongyang's main international airport. (Photo: AFP)

KUALA LUMPUR: A total of 11 Malaysians are stranded in Pyongyang, Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Reezal Merican Naina Merican said, according to The Star.

"As of now, there is no threat to their lives,” the report quoted him as saying on Tuesday (Mar 7). “Their safety is being monitored by the protocol division of North Korea. The ambassador and his wife are back. They came back two weeks ago."

The Star report cited the minister as saying that the 11 include three embassy staff and their families.

Two of the 11 Malaysians are in North Korea as part of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP). A spokesperson for the WFP told Channel NewsAsia that "as UN staff members, they are international civil servants and do not represent any country".

"WFP takes the safety and security of its staff seriously and is closely monitoring the situation," the food assistance unit added.

Pyongyang banned all Malaysian citizens from leaving North Korea amid an increasingly heated diplomatic row over the killing of a North Korean believed to be leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother Kim Jong Nam in Kuala Lumpur.

"All Malaysian nationals in the DPRK will be temporarily prohibited from leaving the country until the incident that happened in Malaysia is properly solved," the official Korea Central News Agency said, citing the foreign ministry.

In response, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters in a media briefing that Kuala Lumpur will ban all North Korean embassy staff and diplomats from leaving the country.

Pyongyang and Kuala Lumpur have been at loggerheads over the killing by two women using VX nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13.

Seoul has blamed Pyongyang for the assassination, and Kuala Lumpur has sought several North Koreans for questioning, although the only one it arrested was released due to lack of evidence.

The North has yet to confirm the dead man's identity but has denounced the Malaysian investigation as an attempt to smear it.

Malaysia expelled the North's ambassador as diplomatic tensions soared and Pyongyang retaliated late Monday by formally ordering out his counterpart, who had already been recalled for consultations.

Additional reporting by Sumisha Naidu

Source: CNA/rw/hs