North Korea Visit To KL Going Badly — Malaysia Ends Visa-Free Entry For Isolated Country & NK Embassy Becomes Criminal Investigation Focus

For years, Malaysia has given North Korea rare freedom for its citizens to visit, work and live. Now that freedom appears to be over — and the North Korean Embassy is at the center of a murder investigation that is upending the cozy diplomatic relationship between the two countries: two North Koreans sought in the death of Kim Jong-nam have taken diplomatic refuge there. Here, Kang Chol, North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, speaking to reporters outside the compound last week.

For years, North Korea has enjoyed the freedom for its citizens to visit, work and live in Malaysia,

a rare privilege for a nation considered an outlaw by most of the world.

Now that freedom is in danger, with the North Korean Embassy in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital,

at the center of a murder investigation that is upending the cozy diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

Malaysia moved to punish North Korea on Thursday for the airport assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of the North’s leader,

saying that it would require visitors from that country to obtain visas, the government said.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the deputy prime minister, imposed the restrictions effective this coming Monday, citing national security concerns.

Until now, North Koreans have been able to enter Malaysia without a visa —

one of the few places in the world that had allowed such easy access for citizens of a country that is widely viewed as a pariah.

About 1,000 North Koreans live and work in Malaysia,

where they have been able to establish international companies

and have access to the global banking system.

For their part, Malaysians can visit North Korea without a visa, but few have reason to go.

With such an imbalanced relationship, Malaysia may have little to lose by severing ties with North Korea

if it continues to deny the police access to the suspects.

It was unclear whether the visa order would affect North Koreans who are already in Malaysia.

Relations between the two nations have rapidly deteriorated since the killing of Kim and accusations that North Korea was behind the crime.

Kim Uk-il, an employee of North Korean state airline, Air Koryo, is safe from arrest as long as he remains inside the embassy grounds.

Intelligence services, including the C.I.A., routinely assign agents to work in foreign embassies in the guise of diplomats,

largely because of the protections of diplomatic immunity.

Governments sometimes expel these agents when espionage is uncovered.

But it is rare for someone working under diplomatic cover to be linked to a murder and for a government to seek an arrest.

The police say Kim Jong-nam was assassinated by two women who rubbed VX nerve agent on his face.

Siti Aisyah, 25, of Indonesia, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, of Vietnam, were charged on Wednesday with his murder.

They have said they thought they were participating in a harmless prank.

Siti Aisyah, 25, of Indonesia, was charged with murder on Wednesday in the assassination of Kim Jong-nam.

South Korea has blamed the North Korean government for Kim’s assassination,

and the Malaysian police have identified eight North Korean men as participants in the plot,

including Hyon, an embassy second secretary, and Kim Uk-il, the Air Koryo employee.

The poisoning in the middle of Kuala Lumpur’s busy international airport has prompted some Malaysians

to call for an examination of their country’s role in helping North Korea connect with the outside world —

and to question whether the North should be allowed to have an embassy in Malaysia.

Dennis Ignatius, a former Malaysian ambassador to several Western Hemisphere countries,

called Malaysian officials “naïve and gullible” in dealing with North Korea,

and questioned why the rogue state had ever been allowed to open its embassy in the first place.

He urged the government — sometimes known by the same name as its geographic location, Putrajaya — to downgrade relations with North Korea.

He suggested

  • expelling North Korea’s ambassador,
  • revoking the visas of North Koreans working in Malaysia
  • and closing Malaysia’s embassy in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Malaysia has already recalled its ambassador there for consultations.

“The real question is why Putrajaya has allowed North Korea to turn Malaysia into one of its most important bases of operation in the region

from which to carry out clandestine activities, circumvent U.N. sanctions and engage in all sorts of illicit enterprises to earn hard currency for the regime,”

he wrote in a blistering blog post this week.

Under the Vienna Convention, countries can declare a foreign diplomat “persona non grata.”

Malaysia is said to be considering that designation for Hyon and his superior, Ambassador Kang Chol,

who issued a strongly worded statement last week accusing Malaysia of colluding with South Korea in the Kim case.

Kang Chol, North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur last week. Kang could be declared “persona non grata” and forced to leave the country …

Both Malaysia and North Korea have signed the Vienna agreement, which allows a country to waive immunity for its own diplomats.

This happens only rarely …

Source: Malaysian Inquiry in Kim Jong-nam Killing Hampered as Suspects Hide in Embassy – The New York Times