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Anger grows as Malaysia, North Korea enforce mutual travel bans

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, was expelled from the country on Monday. Other North Korean diplomats are being held in the embassy compound and prevented from leaving as Malaysia retaliates against a North Korea travel ban. Photo by Fazry Ismail/EPA
North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol, was expelled from the country on Monday. Other North Korean diplomats are being held in the embassy compound and prevented from leaving as Malaysia retaliates against a North Korea travel ban. Photo by Fazry Ismail/EPA

March 7 (UPI) -- A diplomatic row between Malaysia and North Korea is escalating after both sides enforced mutually antagonistic travel bans Tuesday.

According to Pyongyang's state-controlled news agency KCNA, North Korea's foreign ministry said Malaysians currently in North Korea are to be "temporarily prohibited from leaving the country until the incident that happened in Malaysia is properly solved."

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The assassination of Kim Jong Un's half-brother Kim Jong Nam at an airport in Kuala Lumpur has been described by North Korea as the result of "natural causes," and Pyongyang has repeatedly denied involvement.

Malaysian authorities have said two women who attacked Kim Jong Nam were acting in coordination with North Koreans, although no new North Korean suspect has been detained.

Calling North Korea's travel ban an "abhorrent act" that is "effectively holding our citizens hostage," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Tuesday his country will "not hesitate to take all measures necessary when they are threatened," according to The Straits Times.

Police in Malaysia have cordoned off the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

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Diplomats in the compound cannot leave the premises, and Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said there might be three North Korean suspects hiding in the embassy.

Malaysian newspaper China Press reported Malaysian diplomats in the country had abandoned their embassy in Pyongyang, possibly ahead of the travel ban announcement. They had packed all their items in cars, destroyed sensitive documents and may have left the building by Monday evening.

On Tuesday morning, the flags of Malaysia and ASEAN had been taken down at the compound in Pyongyang, according to the report.

Three embassy vehicles were also missing.

North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia was expelled from the country on Monday.

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