Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has described the move by Pyongyang to prevent Malaysians from leaving the country as tantamount to holding them hostage.
"I condemn in the strongest possible terms North Korea's decision to prevent Malaysian citizens from leaving the country.
"This abhorrent act, effectively holding our citizens hostage, is in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms,” he said in a media statement this afternoon.
Najib has also instructed that all North Koreans in Malaysia be barred from leaving.
"I have instructed the inspector-general of police to prevent all North Koreans in Malaysia from leaving the country until we are assured of the safety and security of all Malaysians in North Korea," he added.
The prime minister said he has also called for a National Security Council emergency meeting.
Najib said while Malaysia is committed to maintaining friendly relations with all countries, protecting Malaysian citizens is the topmost priority.
"We will not hesitate to take all measures necessary when they are threatened," he added.
Expressing hope for a swift resolution to the crisis, the prime minister urged the North Korean leadership to immediately allow Malaysian citizens to leave to avoid further escalation of the tension between both nations.
Zahid: We want to send a clear message
This morning, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told a press conference in Parliament that North Korean embassy officials and staff are barred from leaving Malaysia, but no such restrictions would be imposed on other civilians.
“Ordinary citizens will be allowed (to enter and leave). Only officers and staff of the North Korean embassy (who have been barred),” he added in response to a question.
He explained that the move was necessary as the North Korean government had manipulated issues surrounding Kim Jong-nam’s assassination.
“Malaysia must take the same action because (North Korea) has manipulated the murder case.
“We want to send a clear message to them, do not ever point fingers at Malaysia and lower our status as a sovereign nation that have carried out all investigations based on professional standards by the police, Chemistry Department and Health Department,” he stressed.
On ways to rescue Malaysians who are currently in North Korea, Zahid said the government would act according to the Geneva Convention.
Meanwhile, Zahid said the Malaysian national football team would not be flying to Pyongyang for the Asian Cup qualifiers match against North Korea on March 28.
“The Football Association of Malaysia have made several requests for the match to be played at a neutral venue,” he added.
This morning, it was reported that North Korea had imposed a temporary ban on Malaysians leaving the country.
Reuters, quoting North Korea’s KCNA news agency, said its Foreign Ministry notified the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang of the reason for the measure and said it hoped the case would be swiftly and fairly resolved in order to develop bilateral ties with Malaysia.
There are 11 Malaysians in North Korea, including embassy staff and their families.