North Korea, Malaysia clash postponed after travel ban

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – North Korea’s Asian Cup football qualifier with Malaysia was postponed for a third time on Thursday after Malaysia imposed a ban on travel to the country, citing rising nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Next week’s game in Pyongyang had already twice been delayed following a row over the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un, at a Kuala Lumpur airport.

On Thursday, Malaysia’s foreign ministry banned travel to North Korea with immediate effect, citing the “escalation of tensions in the Korean peninsula” arising from Pyongyang’s missile tests.

“All Malaysians are banned from travelling to North Korea until further notice… The travel ban will be reviewed once the situation has returned to normal,” the foreign ministry said Thursday.

The Asian Football Confederation said Thursday’s game was now postponed, adding it “will now refer the matter to the appropriate committees to decide on the future status of this match”.

The game was originally scheduled for March 28, but was deferred because of the row over the murder of Kim Jong-Nam in Malaysia in February.

Kim’s assassination sparked a diplomatic crisis which saw both countries banning each other’s citizens from leaving, and withdrawing their ambassadors. Tensions have since eased.

The fixture was rescheduled to June 8 in Pyongyang but then moved again to the next best available date in the international football calendar, which fell on October 5.

The latest postponement comes after Malaysia’s football chief Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim met a North Korean envoy in Malaysia last week and discussed the safety of players and officials, in what appeared to be positive talks.

Tunku Ismail, who had earlier warned about the dangers of Malaysian players being poisoned in North Korea, was told he could travel directly through North Korean airspace any time he wanted to visit the country. 

“It is the highest honour as any other world leader will need to stop by in Beijing beforehand,” a statement said.

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