2 Malaysians leave N Korea, 9 remain stranded

Kuala Lumpur: Two Malaysian United Nations workers stranded in North Korea after Pyongyang imposed a travel ban earlier this week were allowed to leave the country on Thursday, as Kuala Lumpur worked to secure the release of its nine remaining citizens.
The extraordinary move by Pyongyang on Tuesday saw Malaysia retaliate with a similar ban on North Korean nationals as relations between the two nations plummeted since the February killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in the Malaysian capital.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed that two Malaysians working for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) “were allowed to leave Pyongyang”.
“Stella Lim and Nyanaprakash Muniandy have both safely arrived in Beijing,” he said in a post on his Facebook page.
Najib added that he had spoken to a counsellor at the Malaysian Embassy in North Korea and that “all of the other Malaysians in North Korea are safe”.
“I have given him my assurance that the government will do everything we can to ensure that they return home safely soon… Even though they are refrained from leaving the country, the North Korean government have assured us of their safety and they are free to go about their daily lives,” he said. Diplomatic relations between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang have sharply deteriorated since the death of Kim Jong Nam last month.
Malaysia has not directly accused Pyongyang of the killing but is hunting for North Korean suspects, some of whom are believed to be hiding in the country’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
It expelled North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia after his criticism of the murder investigation, while the Malaysian ambassador to North Korea was also ordered to leave Pyongyang.
Kim, who had lived in Macau in recent years, died less than an hour after two women allegedly rubbed VX nerve agent on his face at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport on 13 February.
Last week a Malaysian court charged a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian national with the murder, though they have previously claimed they were tricked into thinking they were participating in a hoax.
A spokesperson for WFP also confirmed that two of its Malaysian staff had arrived in Beijing on Thursday.
“The staff members are international civil servants and not representatives of their national government. They work on WFP’s programmes in [North] Korea,” the spokesperson said in a statement. — dpa