KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - North Korea has granted a soccer loving Malaysian prince access to its airspace “anytime” he wants, his palace said on Tuesday, as Pyongyang prepares finally to host an Asian Cup tie that became a casualty of the assassination in Malaysia of the North Korean leader’s estranged half brother in February.
Having been delayed twice due to Malaysia’s fears for the safety of its players, the match between North Korea and Malaysia is now set to be played on Oct. 5.
The game had originally been scheduled for March 28, but the two formerly friendly governments suffered a diplomatic meltdown as North Korea reacted angrily to Malaysian police investigating the role North Korean officials allegedly played in the murder of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
The president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, the crown prince of the southern state of Johor, met with North Korea’s senior-most diplomat in Malaysia on Tuesday to discuss the match, according to a statement from the Johor palace.
“Amongst issues discussed were foreign relations and current affairs as well as the upcoming Group B match of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 qualifying final round, in which both teams will ensure the safety of players and team officials,” the statement said.
North Korea also granted the prince “full access” to its airspace “anytime” he wants to visit North Korea from Malaysia, the palace statement said.
“It is the highest honor as any other world leader will need to stop by in Beijing beforehand,” it said.
The trial of two women, an Indonesian and a Vietnamese, charged for the murder of Kim, is set to begin in Kuala Lumpur on Oct.2, but the North Koreans sought by police were believed to have fled Malaysia soon after the murder.
The meeting took place on the same day as the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a stern warning to North Korea over its ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests.
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore