Malaysia seeks venue switch for North Korea football qualifier due to security concerns

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia have asked for an Asian Cup qualifier against North Korea to be moved to a neutral venue as the strain in relations between the countries following the killing of Kim Jong Un's estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, continues to escalate.

Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) General Secretary Hamidin Mohd Amin confirmed a request to not travel to Pyongyang for this month's fixture had been made to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) after talks with the country's authorities.

"The government have asked us not to go to Pyongyang," Hamidin told Reuters on Monday (March 6). "We asked the AFC today if we could play in a neutral venue. We expect a decision by the end of this week."

The two nations were due to open the final phase of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup finals with a Group B encounter at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Stadium on March 28.

Lebanon and Hong Kong have also been drawn in the same pool with the top two teams advancing to the finals in the United Arab Emirates.

An alternative venue has yet to be put forward and AFC said it would issue a statement on the matter later on Monday.

Kim Jong Nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is believed by both South Korean and US officials to have been assassinated at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last month by agents acting on behalf of the Pyongyang regime.

Diplomatic relations between the countries have been strained since the Feb 13 murder using the nerve agent VX, with the Malaysian government giving North Korea's ambassador Kang Chol 48 hours to leave the country on Saturday.