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Getting M'sians out of N Korea is priority: KL

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M'sia PM softens tone on Pyongyang

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak struck a softer tone with North Korea yesterday, a day after accusing it of assassinating the estranged half-brother of its leader Kim Jong Un and treating Malaysians as "hostages".

Malaysian police have identified eight North Koreans wanted for questioning in connection with the killing of Mr Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb 13. Three of them are hiding in the North Korean embassy.

In a bid to "ensure the safety" of its diplomats and citizens in Malaysia, the North retaliated by banning Malaysians from leaving the country until the case was "properly solved".

"What we are facing now is the result of their action in assassinating their own citizen in Malaysia, on Malaysian soil, using a strictly banned chemical weapon," Mr Najib told state media agency Bernama on Tuesday.

But faced with the priority of securing the release of 11 Malaysians stuck in North Korea, he sounded more conciliatory in Parliament yesterday, saying there were no plans to cut diplomatic ties, Reuters reported.

"We are a country that's friendly to them," he said, after reassuring MPs that the three embassy staff, six family members and two other Malaysians in North Korea were safe.

Mr Najib declined to elaborate on the next steps.

Kuala Lumpur announced the expulsion of North Korea's ambassador over the weekend and Pyongyang retaliated in kind, AFP reported.

Said Mr Najib: "We didn't pick a quarrel with them but when a crime has been committed... in Malaysia, we are duty bound to protect the interests of Malaysians."

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the security of Malaysians in North Korea was a primary concern, and he believed Pyongyang would be willing to negotiate.

He said: "So far we believe they're going to act rationally, and we believe what is important is for us to maintain our diplomatic relationship with them."

In Sarawak, 37 North Koreans were detained on Tuesday at a construction site for overstaying their visas, a state government source said.

They were among 176 North Koreans working in the East Malaysian state. But those who overstayed will be given 30-day extensions, an immigration source said.

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