Two Malaysian employees of the U.N.’s World Food Program who were stranded in North Korea because of a travel ban have left the country, the U.N. said Thursday. Nine other Malaysians are believed to still be stuck there after the two countries’ diplomatic relations broke down over the killing of the estranged sibling of North Korea’s leader.
The U.N. employees were among hundreds of ordinary citizens caught up in the escalating diplomatic battle.
The two arrived in Beijing Thursday, said Jane Howard, the WFP coordinator for global issues.
“The staff members are international civil servants and not representatives of their national government,” she said.
Dueling travel bans
When North Korea issued its travel ban earlier this week, Malaysia responded in kind, barring North Koreans from leaving its soil. The nine Malaysians still believed to be there are three embassy workers and their family members.
About 1,000 North Koreans are believed to be in Malaysia, until recently one of the few countries where North Koreans could travel without a visa.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government was “in the process of establishing the reasons and motives” behind North Korea’s drastic measure. He reiterated that diplomatic relations would not be severed to keep the communication line open for negotiations.
North Korean assurances
Najib said he spoke on the phone to Mohamad Nur Azrin, the counselor at the Malaysian Embassy in North Korea, who told him that all Malaysians there are safe.
“I have given him my assurance that the government will do everything we can to ensure that they return home safely soon. The whole of Malaysia is praying for them,” Najib said in a statement on Facebook. “The government will continue to work on reaching the best solution on this issue.”
Malaysia has never directly blamed North Korea for the killing of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur airport February 13.