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Amid Dispute, 2 Malaysian Nationals Allowed to Leave N. Korea


A North Korean flag is seen behind razor wire on top of a wall at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 9, 2017

North Korea allowed two Malaysian employees of the United Nations' World Food Program to leave the country Thursday, amid an ongoing diplomatic dispute triggered by the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed on Twitter that the pair had arrived safely in Beijing. The U.N. says the two Malaysians were "international civil servants, and not representatives of their national government."

The two were among 11 Malaysians confined to their country's embassy in Pyongyang after North Korea imposed a ban preventing Malaysian citizens from leaving the country. Kuala Lumpur responded with its own travel ban on North Koreans in Malaysia.

The dispute was triggered by the February 13 assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport by assassins using a toxic nerve agent.

Authorities in Malaysia have charged 25-year-old Indonesian Siti Aisyah and 28-year-old Doan Thi Huong, from Vietnam, with murder for allegedly swiping Kim's face with VX nerve agent while he waited to board a flight home to Macau. He died 20 minutes later.

Kim Jong Nam was estranged from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Nam reportedly fell out of favor with their father, the late Kim Jong Il, in 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Malaysia has blamed North Korea for organizing the killing and is seeking additional suspects in the case. Prime Minister Najib ruled out severing diplomatic ties with North Korea in his statement Thursday, but insists his government will not "relent" from its "firm approach" in dealing with Pyongyang.

A man claiming to be the son of the North Korean leader's slain half-brother said he and his family are safe and in an undisclosed location, in a video released online.

A South Korean intelligence official identified the man as 21-year-old Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam's second wife, who lives in Macau.

The video was posted by a group called the Cheollima Civil Defense, which says it works to help high-level North Korean defectors.