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Malaysia cancels visa-free entry for North Koreans

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Diplomatic ties between Malaysia and North Korea worsen

KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia will deport a North Korean held in connection with the death of Kim Jong Nam and cancel visa-free entry for all North Koreans, with diplomatic ties between the two countries fraying further.

The relationship between Malaysia and North Korea has soured since the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jung Un was murdered two weeks ago at Kuala Lumpur International Airport with a toxic nerve agent.

South Korean intelligence and US officials say the murder was an assassination organised by North Korean agents, though the only suspects charged in the case so far are two women, one Indonesian and the other Vietnamese.

Police are also holding one North Korean man and want to question seven others, including a senior official in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

But the detained North Korean, Ri Jong Chol, will be deported today as there is insufficient evidence to charge him, Malaysian Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali told Reuters in a text message on Thursday.

Ri was arrested in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 17 with a work permit that had been valid till Feb 6.

It is unclear what Ri's suspected role in the murder was.

Security camera footage showed two women assaulting Kim Jong Nam at the airport as he was waiting to board a flight to Macau, where he had been living with his family under Chinese protection.

Malaysian police say they smeared his face with VX nerve agent, a chemical classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, and that Kim died within 20 minutes of being attacked.

North Korea tried to convince Malaysia not to perform an autopsy on Kim Jong Nam's body, and to release three suspects detained in connection with the killing.

A high-level North Korean diplomatic delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday and has held talks with members of the Malaysian cabinet to press those demands.

The women, who could face the death penalty, have told diplomats from their countries that they had believed they were carrying out a prank for a reality television show.

Police say four of the North Korean suspects have fled Malaysia. Three others - a diplomat, an Air Koryo official and another North Korean - are yet to come forward.

The two countries have maintained friendly ties for decades, but the relationship has come close to breaking point.

Malaysia has insisted that laws of the country will be followed and has refused to release the body to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, while waiting for next of kin to come forward. - REUTERS

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