March 09, 2017 11:19
Malaysia has arrested 140 illegal North Korean workers in an apparent bid for leverage in a diplomatic row over the Feb. 13 assassination of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Immigration officials and police in Sarawak on Tuesday and Wednesday rounded up some 140 North Koreans who were working at a construction site, the Straits Times reported. They had no work permits but worked on visitor visas.
North Korea earlier banned all Malaysians in the country from leaving, effectively holding them hostage over a Malaysian police investigation that has put the blame for the hit squarely on the North Korean regime. Malaysia retaliated in kind.
But there are only 11 Malaysian embassy staff and UN officials in North Korea, whereas an estimated 1,000 North Koreans live in Malaysia, earning hard currency for their isolated leadership. Kuala Lumpur estimates that most of them are illegal workers.
The Malaysian government has drastically stepped up security along the borders with Thailand and Singapore to prevent North Koreans from slipping out.
But Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said there are no immediate plans to cut off all ties with North Korea. "At the moment they are still on because it provides us with a channel," he told parliament. "We have to maintain ties because we have means to negotiate."
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