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Malaysia appeals against Pyongyang football venue

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – Malaysia has lodged an appeal against having to play an Asian Cup qualifier against North Korea in Pyongyang, Asian football’s governing body said Wednesday.

“There is an appeal from FAM. We are looking into it,” said Windsor John, secretary-general of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) made the appeal after the AFC announced on Monday that the match would be played in Pyongyang on June 8.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were strained over the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam — the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un — at Kuala Lumpur airport in February.

Both countries temporarily banned each other’s citizens from leaving and withdrew their ambassadors.

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. 

Windsor John said Malaysian football chiefs had “no justification” to seek a neutral venue since they had  confirmed there was no longer a travel ban.

“Now that the ban is not in place … there is now no justification available (to seek a neutral venue),” he said in a text message from Bahrain.  

FAM officials could not be reached for comment. 

But Hamidin Amin, FAM general secretary, was quoted by the Malay Mail online news portal as saying the association had some concerns.

“I would rather we play in a neutral venue… we will appeal (against the decision to play in Pyongyang) first,” he added.

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

Two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, are on trial accused 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.

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