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International relations

North Korea lets two Malaysian officials leave via China

Talks on nine remaining nationals at Pyongyang embassy to intensify

CK TAN, Nikkei Staff | North Korea

KUALA LUMPUR -- Two Malaysians thought to have been caught in a travel ban imposed by North Korea on Tuesday arrived in Beijing on Thursday, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

The man and woman worked for the WFP at the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang, and were among 11 people forbidden to leave the country after a travel ban was imposed. Bilateral relations have soured following the assassination of a prominent North Korean exile, Kim Jong Nam, in Kuala Lumpur last month.

"The staff members are international civil servants and not representative of their national government," WFP said.

On Tuesday, North Korea followed by Malaysia imposed travel bans in an escalating diplomatic spat over the investigation into the assassination of Kim, the estranged older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Malaysia ordered the expulsion on Saturday of the North Korean ambassador after he challenged autopsy results that confirmed Kim had been killed with VX, a nerve agent banned globally as a weapon of mass destruction.

Nine Malaysians -- three diplomats and their families -- are believed to be stuck in Pyongyang. There are an estimated 1,000 North Koreans in Malaysia. Negotiations to resolve the standoff are expected to pick up, as Malaysia has pledged to ensure the safety and return of its citizens.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has said Malaysia will maintain ties with North Korea to facilitate negotiations to bring home the Malaysians, who he regards as hostages.

"As of now, I can only disclose that the government is in the process of establishing the reasons and motives behind the actions of North Korea," he said on Thursday.

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