Malaysia eyes closing embassy in North Korea

(Article originally published here)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is considering closing down its embassy in Pyongyang months after bilateral ties cooled following the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said his ministry will propose to the cabinet to relegate the mission’s service to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing as it is not safe to assign a new ambassador to Pyongyang, according local news reports. 

Anifah was speaking on Thursday at a dialogue with university students in Sarawak, a state in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo.

“We may or may not sever ties with North Korea but we will have the [mission] accredited to the Beijing embassy,” Anifah was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times online news site. 

Malaysia imposed a travel ban to North Korea on Sept. 28, citing escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and Pyongyang’s missile tests as reasons.

Ties between Malaysia and North Korea have soured since the killing of Kim in February at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Tensions ran high at one stage when North Korea barred nine Malaysian embassy staff and their dependents from leaving Pyongyang, in retaliation for the expulsion of its envoy in Kuala Lumpur. The hostage situation was resolved only after Malaysia yielded to Pyongyang’s demand for the return its nationals suspected of playing the key role in the killing.

The trial of the two women accused of killing Kim with VX nerve agent is ongoing in Kuala Lumpur.

North Korea is facing increasing isolation following a series of nuclear tests in recent months. Countries including Mexico, Kuwait and Spain have reportedly expelled North Korean envoys in response to the tests.