Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – Malaysia has banned its football team from playing an Asian Cup match in Pyongyang citing security threats as diplomatic relations between the two countries soured dramatically after the killing of Kim Jong-Nam, officials said Monday.

Kim, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, was poisoned with the deadly nerve agent VX in a brazen Cold War-style assassination in Kuala Lumpur Airport last month.

Malaysia declared North Korean ambassador Kang Chol persona non grata on Saturday and ordered his expulsion from the country after he failed to apologise for his criticism of Malaysia’s investigation into the killing.

“The Malaysian Government’s decision to expel North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, Kang Chol on Saturday, appears to have made it unsafe for Malaysians to visit North Korea at this time,” said football association chief Hamidin Mohd Amin in a statement.

He added that the association had requested the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) change the qualifying match venue “from Pyongyang to another place that is neutral on the basis of security”. 

The Harimau Malaysia squad had been due to play in the North Korean capital on March 28 as a lead up to the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates. 

South Korea has blamed the North for Kim’s murder, citing what it says was a standing order from Kim Jong-Un to kill his exiled half-brother, who may have been seen as a potential rival.

The diplomatic dispute erupted last month when Malaysian police rejected North Korean diplomats’ demands to hand over Kim’s body.

Malaysia has also recalled its envoy to Pyongyang and cancelled a rare visa-free travel deal with North Korea.