Malaysia has banned all of its citizens from traveling to North Korea, citing the “escalation of tensions” on the Korean Peninsula. It will likely mean that an Asian Cup qualifying match between the two countries will have to be postponed for a third time.
“This decision is taken in view of the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula and related developments arising from missile test,” Malaysia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. It added that the travel ban would be reviewed once the situation has returned to normal.
The foreign ministry did not disclose how many of its citizens are currently in North Korea, but Malaysia and North Korea are scheduled to play an Asian Cup qualifying match in Pyongyang on October 5. The match was already postponed twice before.
Malaysia is not the first country to issue a travel ban for North Korea. The United States issued a travel ban in late August, citing the “serious risk of arrest and long-term detention” under North Korea’s system of law enforcement. The U.S. on Sunday also banned North Koreans from traveling to the United States.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been rising for months, fueled by North Korea’s frequent missile tests and its advancing nuclear weapons program, as well as U.S. military exercises and threatening statements made by U.S. President Donald Trump.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong addressed the United Nations on Saturday and defended his country’s development of nuclear weapons, saying that they are meant to be a deterrent against a U.S. military invasion. He added that North Korea would not use its nuclear weapons unless it is attacked.
Trump, who had already threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it poses a direct threat to the U.S. or its allies, responded to Ri on Twitter, stating that if the foreign minister echoed the thoughts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, “they won’t be around much longer.” Ri in turn described Trump’s tweet as a “declaration of war” and said North Korea had the right to defend itself.
Malaysia’s travel ban comes also just months after a diplomatic dispute between Malaysia and North Korea over the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader. Kim Jong Nam – who lived in exile and was critical of his family’s rule – died at Kuala Lumpur Airport in February after he was attacked and poisoned with the nerve agent VX.
When Malaysian police officers cordoned off the North Korean embassy in an attempt to identify those inside, North Korea banned 11 Malaysian citizens from leaving the country to demand a quick resolution. Malaysia responded with a similar ban but eventually agreed to hand over Kim Jong Nam and allow North Korean citizens to leave.
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