On Monday, Malaysia made good on its threat to expel North Korea’s ambassador over the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. Malaysia also banned its soccer team from traveling to North Korea.
The ostensible reason for ousting North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol was that he conducted himself in a “diplomatically rude” manner by questioning Malaysia’s investigation of Kim’s murder at the Kuala Lumpur airport last month. Kang has portrayed the investigation by Malaysian police as inept and accused them of working as puppets for South Korea and the United States to frame Pyongyang for murdering Kim with a chemical weapon.
“They should have apologized. So based on principles, we have declared him persona non grata. There is no one who can undermine us or disrupt us as they please,” declared Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Reuters reports that Kang fired back in a statement from the same airport where North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s half-brother was killed: “I express grave concern over the extreme measures taken by the Malaysian government, doing great harm to the bilateral relations which have a history of more than 40 years.”
Kang returned home via Beijing, where he was “seen with a woman and a child leaving the VIP arrival area in a car led by a Chinese police escort vehicle,” according to Reuters.
North Korean media reported that Malaysia’s ambassador was, in turn, declared persona non grata and given 48 hours to depart Pyongyang. This appears to be a symbolic gesture, as Malaysia recalled its envoy to North Korea shortly after Kim Jong-nam’s death.
Malaysia also banned its soccer team from playing in Pyongyang, where the 2019 Asian Cup qualifying match was scheduled for March 28. The Football Association of Malaysia said the expulsion of North Korea’s ambassador “appears to have made it unsafe for Malaysians to visit North Korea at this time.”
The Malaysians have asked the Asian Football Confederation to change the venue, and expect a decision by the end of the week.