North Korea, Malaysia In Tit-For-Tat Exit Bans Over Kim Jong-Nam Killing

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North Korea, Malaysia In Tit-For-Tat Exit Bans Over Kim Jong-Nam Killing

Member of Royal Malaysian Police keeps watch across the entrance to North Korean embassy, Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA:  North Korea and Malaysia on Tuesday, banned each other's citizens from leaving their countries, with Kuala Lumpur saying its nationals were effectively being held "hostage" in a row over the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam.

The extraordinary tit-for-tat moves came as the reclusive North faced growing international condemnation for a volley of missiles it fired into the Sea of Japan, defying stringent global sanctions aimed at halting its weapons programme.

Tuesday's developments marked a dramatic heightening of tensions with Malaysia three weeks after the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was murdered at Malaysia's main airport with the banned VX nerve agent.

North Korea decided to "temporarily ban the exit of Malaysian citizens in the DPRK", the official news agency KCNA said, citing the foreign ministry and using the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The prohibition would remain in place "until the safety of the diplomats and citizens of the DPRK in Malaysia is fully guaranteed through the fair settlement of the case that occurred in Malaysia".

The Malaysian foreign ministry said 11 of its citizens were currently in North Korea - three embassy staff, six family members and two who work for the UN's World Food Programme.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the ban and said he was ordering a similar ban on the movement of "all North Korean citizens in Malaysia". Analysts said they could number around 1,000. "This abhorrent act, effectively holding our citizens hostage, is in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms," Najib said.

Later, after the prime minister chaired an emergency national security council meeting, his spokesman told reporters: "One of the issues concerns the fate of the 11 Malaysians in Pyongyang. We want to resolve the issue amicably and in the best possible way," he added.

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A top foreign ministry official met the number two at Pyongyang's embassy on Tuesday, a senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "We have to negotiate with them. We have 11 people in North Korea. The situation is tense," he said. 

"Certainly our ties with China are very special and China has good relations with Pyongyang and so this is one of the avenues we can explore to resolve the issue amicably," senior cabinet minister and veteran politician Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told AFP.

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