North Korea guaranteed the safety of Malaysians banned from leaving the country, Malaysia's prime minister said on Thursday, as two Malaysian U.N. employees left the isolated state in a possible sign that diplomatic tensions had begun to settle.
North Korea had barred Malaysians from leaving the country on Tuesday, sparking tit-for-tat action by Malaysia as relations soured over its investigation into the murder last month of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
After earlier this week accusing North Korea of assassinating Kim Jong Nam with a banned chemical weapon and of treating Malaysians like hostages, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has taken a softer line to get his citizens out of the secretive, nuclear-armed state.
|The North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su
"Diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea will not be severed, as we need to continue communicating with them to find a solution," Najib said in a statement on his blog.
But, he added that his government "will not relent from a firm approach" in dealings with North Korea.
The departure of two Malaysians working for the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) meant nine still remained at the embassy in Pyongyang. They included three diplomats and six family members.
"The government of North Korea has given a guarantee of safety," Najib said in a message on social network Twitter. "They are free to do their daily activities, but they cannot leave the country."
Najib confirmed on Twitter that the two WFP staffers, Stella Lim and Nyanaprakash Muniandy, had left North Korea and reached Beijing.
It was unclear why the pair, who according to a Malaysian government official held U.N. passports, had been allowed to go.
Malaysian sources familiar with the matter said negotiations were underway between the two countries to resolve their issues, including the removal of the ban on Malaysians leaving North Korea, but were not expected to end soon.Reuters