(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES throughout)
SEOUL, March 21 (Yonhap) -- Diplomats withdrew from the North Korean embassy in Malaysia on Sunday, two days after Pyongyang said it would cut ties with the Southeast Asian country over its citizen's extradition to the United States, reports said.
A total of 33 people, including the diplomats and their family members, left the embassy on a bus at around 11 a.m., and departed for Shanghai on a plane that took off at 4:56 p.m., according to news reports.
The withdrawal came after the Malaysian government voiced regrets over the North's decision to sever ties with it, ordered all North Korean diplomats to leave the country within 48 hours, and said it would also close its mission in Pyongyang.
The North Korean flag, which was flown on the premises the previous day, was removed overnight, a sign that the diplomats were preparing to empty the mission.
Before leaving the mission, the North Korean Embassy's charge d'affaires Kim Yu-song issued a statement criticizing Malaysia for extraditing its citizen to the U.S. last week.
He said the deportation case is an outcome of the U.S.-led conspiracy against North Korea and has undermined the basis of the bilateral relationship between North Korea and Malaysia.
Last Friday, Pyongyang said it was severing diplomatic relations with Kuala Lumpur after Malaysia decided to extradite a North Korean man accused of money laundering to the United States.
North Korea and Malaysia had maintained close ties since the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations in 1973, but ties were strained when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was poisoned to death at a Kuala Lumpur airport in 2017 in an assassination blamed on Pyongyang.
The two countries both expelled the ambassadors from their respective countries, while the Malaysian Embassy in Pyongyang was closed down following the incident.
In 2019, North Korea's No. 2 leader Choe Ryong-hae met with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and discussed ways to normalize relations in Azerbaijan, but little progress was made amid the global outbreak of the new coronavirus.
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