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North Korea-Malaysia football match to be played in Pyongyang

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – An Asian Cup qualifier between North Korea and Malaysia will be played in Pyongyang, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced Monday, despite strained ties over an assassination in Kuala Lumpur.

The killing of Kim Jong-Nam — the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un — in February sparked a diplomatic row which saw both countries banning each other’s citizens from leaving and withdrawing their ambassadors.

South Korea accuses the North of masterminding the killing and Malaysian police at the time named several North Korean suspects.

The AFC said the match would take place in the North Korean capital on June 8 after Malaysian football officials confirmed there were no longer any travel restrictions.

Malaysia had originally been due to play the match in Pyongyang on March 28 as a lead-up to the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

But Malaysian officials at the time banned the team from playing in Pyongyang, citing security fears, and the AFC decided to postpone the tie due to “escalating diplomatic tension”.

The travel ban was lifted in late March after a deal was struck involving the return of Kim’s body to North Korea. 

The AFC had at that time said the match could take place at a neutral venue. 

Police accuse two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, of wiping the banned nerve agent VX on Kim Jong-Nam’s face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Macau.

Police said four North Korean men were suspected to have taken part in the murder plot, but they are believed to have returned to Pyongyang. 

Three other North Koreans earlier described as “persons of interest”, including a diplomat based in Malaysia, were allowed to return home under the deal.

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