North Korea said Tuesday it was banning Malaysians from leaving the country as its bitter diplomatic battle with Malaysia escalated dramatically over the poisoning death of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader's estranged half brother. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the travel ban was tantamount to hostage-taking and said his country would respond in kind by banning North Koreans from leaving Malaysia, the AP reports. "This abhorrent act ... is in total disregard of all international law and diplomatic norms," Najib said. Malaysia is looking for seven North Korean suspects. Three of them, including an official at the North Korean Embassy, are believed to still be in Malaysia.
About 1,000 North Koreans are believed to be working in Malaysia, which expelled Pyongyang's ambassador over the weekend. Before diplomatic ties disintegrated, Malaysia had been one of the few places in the world where North Koreans could travel without a visa. A Malaysian Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters there are 11 Malaysians in North Korea: Three working at the Malaysian Embassy, two United Nations workers and six family members. North Korea said Malaysian diplomats and citizens "may work and live normally" during the period of the temporary exit ban. It also said that the Malaysian ambassador would be expelled, although he has already been recalled to Malaysia. (Read more Kim Jong Nam stories.)