KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The Asian Cup qualifier between Malaysia and North Korea, which was postponed last week due to strained relations between the two countries, has been rescheduled to June 8, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said on Wednesday.
AFC Secretary General Dato’ Windsor John told a media conference in Kuala Lumpur that the North had been given until April 14 to propose a neutral venue for the match and said there had been no suggestion it would be cancelled.
Malaysia’s Football Association (FAM) had asked for the March 28 game to be moved away from Pyongyang under pressure from its government following the recent breakdown in relations.
The two countries have become embroiled in a growing row after Malaysia accused North Korea of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Pyongyang ruler Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.
“The match is now confirmed to be played on June 8,” Windsor John said. “We have also told them (North Korea) to come back with a neutral venue, in the event the diplomatic situation is not solved.”
Formerly friendly relations between the two countries soured in the wake of an investigation into last month’s murder.
Angered by the Malaysian police identifying North Korean suspects and wanting to question others, North Korea slapped a travel ban on Malaysians leaving its borders, prompting tit-for-tat action by Malaysia.
“In terms of organisation of the match we have no issue. But when you have a travel ban, then that becomes an issue,” he added.
“We cannot override government laws, because the government has a responsibility to protect the citizens. So we need to respect that rule.”
The two nations were due to open the final phase of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup finals with their Group B encounter at Kim Il Sung Stadium at the end of this month.
“North Korea have not given any indication that they do not want to play the match,” Windsor John added. “At the moment they are just looking to find a neutral venue in case things do not return to normal.”
Reporting by Minh Nguyen; Writing by Ian Ransom/Peter Rutherford; Editing by John O’Brien
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