PETALING JAYA (AFP, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, BERNAMA) - The North Korean Ambassador in Malaysia left the country on Monday (March 6) following an expulsion order, expressing grave concern over the "extreme measures" taken by the Malaysian government.
Malaysia and North Korea are embroiled in an acrimonious dispute over the assasination of Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last month.
North Korea has not acknowledged the dead man’s identity but has repeatedly disparaged the murder investigation, accusing Malaysia of conniving with its enemies.
Ahead of his departure, Mr Kang Chol fired a parting shot at the authorities calling Malaysia's probe into the incident a “pretargeted investigation by the Malaysian police”. "I express grave concern over the extreme measures by the Malaysian government," he told reporters at the airport, adding that the move did "great harm to bilateral relations which have a history of over 40 years."
Mr Kang said Malaysia had conducted the autopsy on its citizen "without the consent and attendance of the DPRK (North Korean) embassy", using the formal name for North Korea. He added that Malaysia had also arrested another North Korean citizen "without any clear evidence showing his involvement in the incident".
Malaysia on Saturday declared Mr Kang persona non grata and gave him 48 hours to leave the country after he failed to apologise for his criticism of the investigation, which found that Mr Kim had been poisoned with the deadly nerve agent VX.
The North retaliated on Monday to Mr Kang's expulsion by designating the Malaysian ambassador to the country, Mr Mohamad Nizan Mohamad, as persona non grata and demanding he leave the country within 48 hours from 10am on Sunday, its official KCNA news agency said. The move came even though the Malaysian envoy had already been recalled to Kuala Lumpur for consultations and had arrived in Malaysia on Feb 22.
Senior government officials had told AFP that Mr Kang would head home on an MH360 flight to Beijing leaving at 6.25pm, shortly after the 6pm deadline for his expulsion. Information about his onward flight to Pyongyang, however, was not known.
Mr Kang had been accompanied by a police escort on his way to he airport.
Earlier, the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur was cordoned off by police, with several pieces of luggage seen being loaded by embassy officials into a grey Toyota Alphard. The luggage later arrived at the airport. Police armed with assault rifles had also been seen stationed outside the embassy.
On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia was not expecting to hear any apology from Pyongyang. “Right now we are not getting anything. I don’t expect anything.” “They should have apologised based on principles, (so) we have declared him (Mr Kang Chol) persona non grata,” he said.
South Korea has blamed the North for the murder, citing what it says was a standing order from the North Korean leader to kill his exiled half-brother who may have been seen as a potential rival. The diplomatic dispute erupted last month when Malaysian police rejected North Korean diplomats’ demands to hand over Mr Kim’s body.
Mr Kang then claimed the investigation was politically motivated and said Kuala Lumpur was conspiring with “hostile forces”, referring to the North’s arch-rival, Seoul.
Malaysia summoned Mr Kang for a dressing-down, with Datuk Seri Najib saying the ambassador’s statement was “diplomatically rude”.
Malaysia has also recalled its envoy to Pyongyang and cancelled a rare visa-free travel deal with North Korea. It issued a Feb 28 deadline for an apology.
It ordered the ambassador expelled after he failed to present himself at the foreign ministry when summoned on Saturday.
The foreign ministry has said the expulsion is “part of the process by the Malaysian government to review its relations” with North Korea.
Police are seeking seven North Korean suspects in their probe, four of whom left Malaysia on the day of the murder. But on Friday they released the only North Korean they had arrested for lack of evidence.
After Mr Ri Jong Chol was deported, he claimed police offered him a comfortable life in Malaysia for a false confession, saying the investigation was “a conspiracy to impair the dignity of the Republic (North Korea)”.
Two women – one Vietnamese and one Indonesian – have been charged with the actual murder. Airport CCTV footage shows them approaching the heavyset 45-year-old and apparently smearing his face with a cloth.
Police say he suffered a seizure and died less than 20 minutes later. Swabs of the dead man’s face revealed traces of the VX nerve agent.