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Malaysia, North Korea Escalate Diplomatic Battle With Travel Bans


A North Korean embassy employee asks police if staff are allowed to leave as police put a cordon at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 7, 2017.

Malaysia is barring all North Koreans, including diplomats and embassy staff, from leaving the country, while North Korea is banning all Malaysians from leaving its territory, as the two nations continue a diplomatic battle kicked off by last month's killing of the half-brother of North Korea's leader.

The decisions Tuesday followed earlier moves to expel each other's ambassadors.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said North Korea is "effectively holding our citizens hostage" and that he hopes the decision is reversed immediately in order to prevent further escalation.

The North Korean move was announced by state television, saying its ban would be in place until the safety of its citizens in Malaysia is guaranteed.

Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of Kim Jon Un, was attacked February 13 at an airport in Kuala Lumpur with what Malaysian investigators say was VX nerve agent.He died 20 minutes later.

FILE - Kim Jong Nam, exiled half brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, gestures toward his face while talking to airport security and officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Feb. 13, 2017.
FILE - Kim Jong Nam, exiled half brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, gestures toward his face while talking to airport security and officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Feb. 13, 2017.

Malaysian authorities have charged a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman with murder, saying they were the ones who rubbed the substance on Kim's face.Police are still seeking several other suspects they believe are connected to the killing, including several North Koreans.One North Korean suspect was detained for several weeks before being deported.

North Korea has not confirmed the dead man is Kim Jong Nam, and has rejected the Malaysian investigation in the case and any suggestions that it was behind the killing.

Kim Jong Nam was the older estranged brother of Kim Jong Un.Kim Jong Nam was once considered the heir apparent to lead North Korea, but he fell out of favor with their father, the late dictator Kim Jong Il, after a failed 2001 attempt to enter Japan on a forged passport to visit Disneyland.

Since then, Kim Jong Nam had lived in virtual exile, primarily in the Chinese territory of Macau.

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