KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia said on Wednesday (March 8) that it's not cutting diplomatic ties with North Korea and will negotiate with Pyongyang to peacefully resolve their row over the murder of North Korean Kim Jong Nam.
Prime Minister Najib Razak also said the 11 Malaysians in North Korea are safe and free to do their daily activities despite being barred from leaving the country.
When asked at Parliament about Malaysia's ties with North Korea, Datuk Seri Najib said: "At the moment it's still on because it provides us with a channel. Because you need to have a channel to talk to them, to negotiate with them."
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also said on Wednesday that Malaysia would still "resolve the matter amicably".
"So far we believe they are going to act rationally and we believe what's important is for us to maintain our diplomatic relationship with them," he told reporters on the sidelines of an event.
On whether Malaysia is speaking directly to North Korea, Datuk Seri Zahid said the foreign ministry will liaise with the North Korean delegation in Kuala Lumpur.
Tensions have risen between Malaysia and North Korea after the Feb 13 murder in Kuala Lumpur of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un,
In a dramatic escalation of the row, North Korea on Tuesday barred Malaysians from leaving the country, which sparked a tit-for-tat travel ban on North Koreans in Malaysia.
The Malaysian prime minister had said North Korea was effectively holding Malaysians hostage by prohibiting them from leaving the country.
The travel ban followed the expulsion of the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia, which was matched by Pyongyang’s own declaration that Malaysia’s already recalled envoy was persona non grata.
The body of Kim Jong Nam is being kept at a morgue in Kuala Lumpur, while authorities conduct their investigation. Malaysia's preliminary autopsy results showed he died from the lethal VX nerve agent after being attacked at the airport while waiting to board his flight to Macau.
But Pyongyang labelled the death as "heart stroke". It identified the man as Kim Chol, based on the passport found on him, and demanded the body be handed to North Korean officials.
Malaysian police are seeking seven North Korean men to assist in the probe. Four of them are believed to have returned to Pyongyang after taking a flight on the day of the attack. Police believed another three North Koreans are in the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
A North Korean national was released after two weeks in remand and deported due to lack of evidence to charge him.