N. Korean embassy in Malaysia a hive of activity after diplomatic ties severed

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS) - The bungalow which houses the North Korean embassy in Malaysia was a hive of activity in the last two days as the two country severed diplomatic ties and Malaysia ordered Pyongyang's diplomatic staff and dependants to leave the country within 48 hours.

Malaysian and foreign journalists have parked themselves outside the embassy in posh Damansara Heights from Friday (March 19) morning, after North Korea announced it would sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia. This followed the extradition from Malaysia of a North Korean man to the United States to face money-laundering charges on Wednesday.

Malaysia's foreign ministry on Friday denounced the decision by North Korea to sever diplomatic ties, describing the move as "unfriendly and unconstructive".

In a statement, the ministry said Malaysia would close its embassy in Pyongyang in response.

"Malaysia had been persistent in pursuing concrete efforts to strengthen our relations with the DPRK even after the deplorable assassination of Kim Jong Nam in 2017," the Malaysian ministry said, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

"In this respect, the DPRK's unilateral decision is clearly unwarranted, disproportionate and certainly disruptive towards the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity of our region".

Around 11am on Saturday, some 40 local and international media personnel were outside the embassy to monitor developments, Malay Mail online news reported.

On Friday evening, at least four black cars with diplomatic number plates were seen entering and leaving the embassy's premises.

North Korea in its Friday announcement did not name its citizen who was extradited to the US, but Malaysia said Mun Chol Myong, who was arrested in 2019, was extradited on Wednesday after he exhausted several legal appeals.

Mun was arrested after the US accused him of laundering funds through front companies and issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to North Korea. He fought the extradition request, arguing that it was politically motivated.

The North Korean foreign ministry called the extradition a "nefarious act and unpardonably heavy crime" by Malaysian authorities, who had "offered our citizen as a sacrifice of the US hostile move in defiance of the acknowledged international laws".

Malaysia's actions had destroyed "the entire foundation of the bilateral relations based on the respect for sovereignty", it said.

Malaysia's once-close ties with North Korea were severely downgraded after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged brother, Mr Kim Jong Nam, was killed at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017 when two women smeared his face with VX nerve agent, which the United Nations lists as a weapon of mass destruction.

Malaysia suspended operation of its embassy in 2017 after it secured the safe return of nine citizens held in Pyongyang in exchange for the release of Mr Kim Jong Nam's body.