Malaysia may expel North Korean envoy over airport killing comments: Source

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is considering expelling North Korea's envoy to the South-east Asian nation or shutting its embassy in Pyongyang, as tensions escalate over the killing of the estranged half-brother of the North's leader Kim Jong Un, a senior government official said.

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Kim Jong Nam, 46, was killed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13 with what police believe was a fast-acting poison, as he prepared to board a flight to Macau where he lived in exile with his family under the protection of Beijing.

North Korea's ambassador said last week his country "cannot trust" Malaysia's handling of the probe, and also accused the country of "colluding with outside forces" - a veiled reference to bitter rival South Korea.

A senior Malaysian government official who is familiar with the discussions said Ambassador Kang Chol's comments have angered Malaysia and it was preparing a response, which could including declaring the ambassador "persona non grata".

Such a move would be the strongest response Malaysia could take against a foreign diplomat, and would mean Kang Chol would have to leave the country.

The source said Malaysia was also considering other options. The country, which has until now been one of the few nations to maintain friendly ties with the isolated North, could close its embassy in Pyongyang, or end visa-free travel for North Koreans entering Malaysia.

Read also: Malaysia, North Korea ties run deep

If the criticism from North Korea did not stop, all diplomatic and trade ties could be cut, the source added.

The Malaysian foreign ministry did not answer phone calls seeking comment.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said earlier his week that the ambassador's comments casting doubt over Malaysia's investigation were "diplomatically rude".

"The statement by the ambassador was totally uncalled for ... But Malaysia will stand firm," Najib told reporters on Tuesday.