KUALA LUMPUR: An Asian Cup qualifier between Malaysia and North Korea which was postponed after their diplomatic ties soured will now be held on June 8, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced Wednesday.
The killing of Kim Jong-Nam in Kuala Lumpur International Airport last month triggered a bitter row between Malaysia and North Korea, which have expelled each other’s ambassadors and refused to let their citizens leave.
The Harimau Malaysia squad had originally been due to play in Pyongyang on March 28 as a lead up to the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates.
But the fate of the match was thrown into doubt after Malaysian officials last week banned the team from playing in Pyongyang, citing security fears, followed by an AFC decision to postpone the tie due to “escalating diplomatic tension”.
On Wednesday, AFC general secretary Windsor John told reporters that “the match between DPRK Korea (North Korea) and Malaysia will be played on June 8”.
He added: “In the event (that) the diplomatic situation does not return to normal then… the match will be played in a neutral venue.”
The AFC has asked Pyongyang to come up with “a neutral venue” by April 14.
“If North Korea cannot find a neutral venue, we will find one for them.”
Pyongyang will also have to provide details of “all the security guarantees for spectators, fans, media”, he added.
Kim, the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un, was poisoned with the deadly nerve agent VX in a brazen Cold War-style assassination on February 13.
North Korea has never confirmed the identity of the dead man, but has denounced the Malaysian investigation as an attempt to smear the secretive regime, insisting that he most likely died of a heart attack.
Three Malaysian embassy staff and six family members are stranded in Pyongyang after North Korea barred Malaysians from leaving the country last week, prompting a tit-for-tat move by Kuala Lumpur.
South Korea has blamed Pyongyang for the assassination and Malaysian police are seeking seven North Korean suspects, four of whom left Malaysia on the day of the murder.
The Malaysian police chief has said he believes the other three are hiding in North Korea’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Two women — one Vietnamese and one Indonesian — have been arrested and charged with the murder. Airport CCTV footage shows them approaching the victim and apparently smearing his face with a piece of cloth.