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Malaysia expels N. Korean ambassador as tensions rise over Kim Jong Nam murder

MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP | Kang Chol, North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, addresses journalists outside the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on February 20, 2017.

Malaysia on Saturday expelled the North Korean ambassador to the country, declaring him "persona non grata" and asking the envoy to leave Malaysia within 48 hours.


The move comes nearly three weeks after Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was murdered at Kuala Lumpur's airport with a toxic nerve agent.

US and South Korean officials have said he was killed by agents of the North Korean regime.

Kang Chol, North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, said last month his country "cannot trust" Malaysia's handling of the probe, and also accused the country of "colluding with outside forces" in a veiled reference to bitter rival South Korea.

Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Haji Aman said in a statement on Saturday that Malaysia had demanded an apology from the ambassador for his comments, but none was forthcoming.

"Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation," Anifah said.

Scrapping visa-free travel

Malaysia deported a North Korean suspect in the case on Friday.

Kang's expulsion came just days after Malaysia said it would cancel visa-free entry for North Koreans entering the country from March 6. Anifah said in the statement that this move was "an indication of the government’s concern that Malaysia may have been used for illegal activities."

Earlier Saturday, a North Korean chemist deported from Malaysia accused police of threatening to kill his family unless he confessed to killing Kim.

Ri Jong Chol, who was released after police said there was insufficient evidence to charge him, spoke to reporters in Beijing while on his way to Pyongyang.

Ri said he wasn't at the airport the day Kim was killed but police accused him of being a mastermind and presented him with fake evidence." He said they showed him a picture of his wife and two children, who were staying with him in Kuala Lumpur, and threatened to kill them.

"These men kept telling me to admit to the crime, and if not, my whole family would be killed, and you too won't be safe. If you accept everything, you can live a good life in Malaysia," Ri said. "This is when I realized that it was a trap ... they were plotting to tarnish my country's reputation."

Search for more suspects

Ri was detained four days after the attack, but police never said what they believed his role was. Two women - one Indonesian, one Vietnamese - have been charged with murder, although both reportedly say they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said he would hold a news conference on Tuesday to respond to Ri's comments.

Malaysia is looking for seven other North Korean suspects, four of whom are believed to have left the country on the day of the killing. Three others, including an official at the North Korean Embassy and an employee of Air Koryo, North Korea's national carrier, are believed to still be in Malaysia.

Police on Friday issued an arrest warrant for the Air Koryo employee, Kim Uk Il, but didn't say why he is a suspect. Police say he arrived in Malaysia on Jan. 29, about two weeks before Kim was killed.

North Korea earlier rejected Malaysia's autopsy finding that VX nerve agent killed Kim. Ri Tong Il, a former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said he probably died of a heart attack because he suffered from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Malaysia's finding that VX killed Kim boosted speculation that North Korea orchestrated the attack. Experts say the oily poison was almost certainly produced in a sophisticated state weapons laboratory, and North Korea is widely believed to possess large quantities of chemical weapons including VX.

North Korea is trying to retrieve Kim's body, but has not acknowledged that the victim is leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother.


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