In a major fallout of the assassination of North Korean Kim Jong-Nam, Malaysia has announced that it will scrap visa-free travel for North Koreans.
The cancellation will take effect on March 6, after which North Koreans entering Malaysia will be required to obtain a visa, said Malaysian news agency quoted the country’s deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Before the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s ruler, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, the two countries enjoyed relatively warm ties, with some bilateral trade and citizens from both countries entitled to travel to the other under a unique reciprocal visa-free deal.
Zahid said the visa-free arrangement with North Korea will be scrapped from Monday due to national security. He also slammed the North Korean ambassador in Kuala Lumpur who accused Malaysia of “trying to conceal something” and “colluding with hostile forces.”
“We don’t want to make enemies, but if they had used Malaysia for their own agenda, they should not accuse Malaysia and tarnish our image on the international stage,” Zahid said.
“We will act firmly to guarantee the safety of our people. Don’t ever use Malaysia as a base to do anything you like,” he lashed out.
Meanwhile, a North Korean man will be released from custody because of lack of evidence connecting him to the attack on Kim Jong Nam. , Malaysian officials said.
Malaysian Attorney General Mohamad Apandi Ali said Ri Jong Chol will be released and deported because he does not have valid travel documents.
The attack on Kim Jong-Nam was caught on grainy security camera footage that showed two women smearing something on Kim’s face as he waited for a flight at Kuala Lumpur airport terminal on February 13. Preliminary probe had revealed that the substance was VX nerve agent, a banned chemical weapon.
Kim was dead within an hour, authorities said.
The assassination has unleashed a serious diplomatic battle between Malaysia and North Korea. While it isn’t one of Pyongyang’s key diplomatic partners, Malaysia has been one of the few places in the world where North Koreans could travel without a visa.
The two female suspects caught in the security footage were charged with murder in a Malaysian court on Wednesday. They face the mandatory death sentence if convicted. Both say they were duped into thinking they were taking part in a harmless prank.
“I understand but I am not guilty,” Vietnamese suspect Doan Thi Huong told the court in English after the murder charge was read.
The other suspect, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, nodded as her translator told her, “You are accused of murdering a North Korean man at the departure hall” of Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
(With inputs from agencies)