North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia has left the country after being expelled amid a row over the bizarre killing of Kim Jong Nam. In a tit-for-tat response, Pyongyang then ordered Malaysia's ambassador to go home.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency said on Monday that Malaysia's ambassador had 48 hours to get out of the country.
"The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK (North Korea) notifies that the Malaysian ambassador to the DPRK is labeled as a persona non grata... and demanded that the ambassador leave the DPRK," the agency reported.
The order came as Kang Chol, the North's ambassador to Malaysia, flew home from Kuala Lumpur.
Breakdown in relations
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated over an investigation into the February 13 murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea's leader. Police say the 45-year-old suffered a seizure and died minutes after two women approached him inside Kuala Lumpur's airport and smothered his face with a cloth. Swabs revealed traces of the VX nerve agent - a finding disputed by North Korea.
Diplomat Kang had also questioned the probe's partiality and accused Malaysia of conspiring with his country's enemies. South Korea has blamed the North for the murder, citing what they say was a standing order from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who may have seen his half brother as a potential political rival.
Malaysian authorities have so far charged a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman over the murder. They are also seeking seven North Korean suspects, four of whom are believed to have left Malaysia on the day of the killing.
'Defending our sovereignty'
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Monday said expelling the envoy aimed to send a clear message.
"It means that we are firm in defending our sovereignty and dignity," he said. "Don't ever insult our country and don't try to cause disruptions here."
The envoy, Kang, was declared persona non grata on Saturday and given two days to go home. Speaking shortly before his departure at Kuala Lumpur's airport on Monday, he told reporters that Malaysia was doing "great harm" to bilateral relations.
The diplomatic rift led to Malaysia canceling a rare visa-free travel deal with North Korea, a key conduit for North Koreans to the outside world.
The Southeast Asian country also said it would not allow its national soccer team to travel to North Korea for a 2019 Asian Cup qualifying match scheduled to take place on March 28.
The Football Association of Malaysia said Kang's expulsion "made the current situation unsafe for Malaysians to travel to North Korea for the moment."
nm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)