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Malaysia expels North Korea ambassador over Kim murder

AFP logoAFP 4/03/2017 Manan VATSYAYANA
Kang Chol, North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, approaches journalists outside the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on February 20, 2017 © Provided by AFP Kang Chol, North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, approaches journalists outside the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on February 20, 2017

Malaysia expelled North Korea's ambassador Saturday giving him 48 hours to leave the country as the diplomatic row deepened over the assassination of the half-brother of Pyongyang's leader in Kuala Lumpur.

Kim Jong-Nam, 45, was poisoned last month at Kuala Lumpur International Airport with VX, a nerve agent so deadly that it is classed as a weapon of mass destruction.

The dramatic killing has sharply soured relations between Malaysia and North Korea, which has not acknowledged the dead man's identity, but has vehemently protested the murder investigation and accused Kuala Lumpur of being in cahoots with its enemies.

"The expulsion of the DPRK (North Korea) Ambassador is... an indication of the government's concern that Malaysia may have been used for illegal activities," Malaysia's foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

It said that "the ambassador has been declared persona non grata," after it had demanded but not received an apology over Pyongyang's attack on its investigation of the case.

"He is expected to leave Malaysia within 48 hours," it added.

Malaysia summoned Ambassador Kang Chol for a dressing-down last month over his accusation that the investigation was politically motivated and that Kuala Lumpur was conspiring with "hostile forces".

South Korea has blamed the North for the murder, citing what they say was a standing order from leader Kim Jong-Un to kill his exiled half-brother who may have been seen as a potential rival.

North Korea warned Saturday the US will "pay dearly" if it puts Pyongyang on a terror list over the killing.

Last month Malaysian police rejected North Korean diplomats' demands to hand over Kim's body.

Malaysia also cancelled a rare visa-free travel deal with North Korea and recalled its envoy to Pyongyang, putting the skids under once cozy ties.

The expulsion came the same day that the only North Korean arrested over the assassination on Saturday denounced Malaysia's probe into the murder as "a conspiracy to impair the dignity of the Republic (North Korea)".

Ri Jong-Chol, who was released and deported Friday due to lack of evidence, said that police had offered him a comfortable life in Malaysia in return for a false confession.

Ri's release came days after two women -- one Vietnamese and one Indonesian -- were charged with murdering Kim Jong-Nam.

Airport CCTV footage showed the women 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 VX nerve agent.

- Terror list warning -

On Friday police issued an arrest warrant for a North Korean airline employee, Kim Uk Il, 37, in connection with the murder.

They also requested that Hyon Kwang Song, second secretary at the North Korean embassy, assist the probe.

Both are believed to be in Malaysia. Four others are thought to have fled to Pyongyang on the day of the assassination.

South Korean and Japanese media, citing diplomatic sources, have reported that the US has been mulling placing the North back on its terror list, which includes Iran and Syria.

"The US will keenly realise how dearly it has to pay for its groundless accusations against the dignified" North if it puts it back on the terror list, the regime's foreign ministry spokesman told state-run newswire KCNA.

The spokesman maintained that Pyongyang opposed "all forms of terrorism" and accused the US of trying to tarnish its reputation.

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