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Malaysia expels North Korean ambassador as tensions rise over murder probe

Tensions are rising between Malaysia and North Korea as Kuala Lumpur continues to probe a high-profile murder. In addition to the expulsion, Malaysia has also broken off visa-free travel with the communist country.

Malaysia on Saturday declared the North Korean ambassador to the country "persona non grata" and ordered the diplomat to leave Malaysia within 48 hours.

The move comes nearly three weeks after Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was murdered at Kuala Lumpur's airport after two women allegedly rubbed a toxic nerve agent on his face.

Watch video 01:54

Two women charged with killing half brother of North Korean leader

Kim, 45, was poisoned last month with VX, a nerve agent so deadly that it is classed as a weapon of mass destruction.

The dramatic airport killing prompted an international probe and lurid stories of North Korea's Cold War-style practice of killing political enemies.

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

US and South Korean officials have said he was killed by agents of the North Korean regime.

Casting doubt on Malaysia

Kang Chol (pictured above), North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia, last month cast doubt on the reliability of Malaysia's investigation into Kim's death, saying his country "cannot trust" Malaysia's handling of the probe.

He also accused the country of "colluding with outside forces" - a veiled reference to Pyongyang's bitter rival South Korea.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Haji Aman said in a statement on Saturday that Malaysia had demanded an apology from the ambassador for his comments, but none was forthcoming.

"Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation," Anifah said.

"The ambassador has been declared persona non grata," according to a statement from Malaysia's Foreign Ministry.

Watch video 04:02

Afternoon Q&A: Kim Jong-nam – Jan van Aken

It added, "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 has also canceled a rare visa-free travel deal with North Korea, a key conduit for North Koreans to the outside world, and recalled its envoy to Pyongyang - further straining the once cozy ties between the two countries.

Malaysia is still looking for seven other North Korean suspects, four of whom are believed to have left the country on the day of the killing. Three others, including an official at the North Korean Embassy and an employee of Air Koryo, North Korea's national carrier, are believed to still be in Malaysia.

bik/sms (AP. Reuters, AFP)

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