Fate of 170 N. Koreans in Sarawak rests with Putrajaya

Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg is confident that the United People's Party will rejoin the Sarawak United People's Party. — Picture by Sulok Tawie

KUCHING, March 7 — The Sarawak government is waiting for instructions from Putrajaya on how to deal with North Koreans working in the state.

According to Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Abang Openg, there are 170 North Korean citizens working there.

“We are liaising with the Home Ministry and Foreign Ministry on what steps to take on the North Koreans,” he told reporters after officiating at a forum and workshop on forestry landscape here today.

He said the North Koreans are mostly working at a coal mine in Selantek, Sri Aman, while a few are engaged as hydroelectric project consultants.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had earlier instructed Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar to prevent all North Korean citizens here from leaving the country until the government is assured of the safety and security of Malaysians in North Korea.

The chief minister said all North Koreans working in Sarawak are accounted for, while where they are employed and by which companies are on record as their names were registered with the state government.

“The issues involving the North Koreans are very delicate so we have to wait for the instructions from the federal government on what steps we need to take,” he said.

Abang Johari declined to speculate whether some of the North Koreans are agents of their government to conduct surveillance on the state and federal governments.

“We cannot determine who are spies and who are not. We just don’t know so we leave the matter to the security personnel from the police to find out,” he said, stressing that many are genuine workers.

In 2014, then Deputy Home Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had said that only Sarawak had allowed workers from North Korea to be employed, but not in other states.

He had said the North Koreans were brought into Sarawak to work via a special arrangement between the Sarawak and North Korean governments.

“They were hired to work in coal mines in Sarawak because they were disciplined, dedicated and tough,” Wan Junaidi, who is now the federal minister of Natural Resources and Environment, had said.