KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia cordoned off the North Korean Embassy yesterday, after learning that its own diplomats are being prevented from leaving their embassy in Pyongyang.
Malaysian police officers and vehicles were stationed outside the embassy, with yellow "Do Not Cross" tape running around the compound, which is located in a bungalow in the upscale residential neighbourhood of Damansara Heights.
There were also up to 100 media personnel waiting outside the embassy yesterday afternoon.
The Star newspaper quoted a Malaysian Foreign Ministry official as saying that its embassy staff in Pyongyang were safe.
China's CCTV 13 reported that the Malaysian and Asean flags at the Malaysian Embassy in Pyongyang were lowered to half-mast yesterday, with staff seen burning documents and loading luggage into vehicles, shortly after North Korea announced the expulsion of Ambassador Mohamad Nizan Mohamad on Monday.
Pyongyang yesterday also banned all Malaysians from leaving the country.
Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed confirmed to reporters that Malaysian diplomats in Pyongyang were being barred from leaving their embassy. He added that the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was being sealed off only temporarily to facilitate a headcount "for the safety of North Koreans in there".
"We have done this temporarily, at least until we have done a physical identification of all those inside," he told reporters, adding that the diplomats would then be allowed to leave.
According to Deputy Foreign Minister Reezal Merican Naina Merican, there are 11 known Malaysians in North Korea - three diplomats who have six family members with them, and two more Malaysians working for the United Nations' World Food Programme.
Malaysian state news agency Bernama said it managed to contact a Malaysian woman residing in North Korea who was unaware of the exit ban, but it was unclear if she was one of the 11 cited by Datuk Seri Reezal Merican.
North Korea has 14 diplomats in Malaysia, after Ambassador Kang Chol was expelled, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The Sarawak government said it would discuss with the home and foreign ministries the status of 170 North Koreans working in the state. Other North Koreans reside in Malaysia, although their numbers are not known.