M'sians in N. Korea: Negotiations will happen "when time comes", says PM

ADRIAN LAI


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will conduct formal negotiations "when the time comes" to free the remaining nine Malaysians stranded in North Korea, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today.

He reiterated that the nine citizens are safe, and that there is no reason to worry over their wellbeing.

The Prime Minister, however, declined to comment on whether informal negotiations between Malaysia and North Korea have already taken place here.

The two countries have been embroiled in a diplomatic spat over the Feb 13 killing in Kuala Lumpur of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

The incident sparked a diplomatic stand-off, as both countries slapped travel bans on each other’s citizens, and expelled the other’s ambassador.

Najib, however, defused the tension after making it clear that Malaysia will not sever ties with the reclusive state.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said on Saturday that North Korea had indicated it is ready to start negotiations.

"They want to start talking. We do not know what their demands are – we need to figure out what we can do to get the best result,” he told reporters.

Anifah said many countries had offered to mediate between the two, but that “no country will act as a third party” or mediator.

Jong-nam, who had been living under Beijing’s protection in Macau and had been known to criticise his family’s regime, was killed using the highly toxic VX nerve agent.

The chemical is classified by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction.

Malaysia has indirectly accused the nuclear-armed state of masterminding the murder and identified eight North Koreans, including three still in Kuala Lumpur, as having been involved in the killing.

North Korea has, in turn, criticised Malaysia’s handling of the investigation.

Najib was speaking to reporters at the Parliament lobby here today.