Malaysia expels North Korean ambassador

Kang Chol has been asked to leave Malaysia within 48 hours

Malaysia has expelled North Korea's ambassador, giving him 48 hours to leave the country in a major breakdown in diplomatic relations over the airport assassination of the half-brother of Pyongyang's leader.

Kim Jong-Nam was poisoned on February 13 with deadly nerve agent VX. North Korea has not acknowledged the dead man's identity, instead accusing Malaysia falling under the influence of “foreign powers."

Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Haji Aman said in a statement last last night that: "The ambassador has been declared persona non grata" after Malaysia demanded but did not receive an apology for Pyongyang's attacks on the investigation.

"Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation," he added, with the statement concluding that Ambassador Kang Chol failed to present himself at the ministry when summoned and "is expected to leave Malaysia within 48 hours."

Malaysian police are seeking seven North Koreans, including the second secretary at the embassy, over the death of Kim Jong-nam.

The foreign ministry said the expulsion is "part of the process by the Malaysian government to review its relations" with North Korea, which before Kim's assassination were unusually cosy.

"North Korea must learn to respect other countries," Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Sunday. Last week Malaysia cancelled visa-free entry for North Koreans entering the country from March 6th.

In another development related to the case, one of the suspects said last week that he was a victim of a conspiracy by Malaysia aimed at damaging North Korea's "honour".

Speaking to reporters outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing, Ri Jong-chol said: "I realised that this is a conspiracy plot to try to damage the status and honour of the republic."

He said he was presented with false evidence while in Malaysia.

Two women -- one Vietnamese and one Indonesian -- have been charged with murdering Kim Jong-Nam.

South Korea increases rewards

Meanwhile, South Korea said today that it would dramatically increase the cash reward it provides for North Korean defectors arriving with sensitive information to 1 billion won, or €809,602 in an effort to encourage more elite members from the North to leave.

As reported in the New York Times, the Unification Ministry, a South Korean government agency in charge of North Korea policies, said that it plans to increase the cash bonus for a defector with such information to €809,602 from €204,283. Defectors who flee with a warship or military fighter jet will also get €809,602, instead of the current $122,381.

Those who arrive with lesser weapons, like a tank or a machine gun, can expect rewards ranging from $40,480 to $244,763.

The new cash awards will take effect in April.