June 28 (UPI) — Malaysia is stiffening unilateral sanctions against North Korean workers in the country, according to Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

The Southeast Asian nation is refusing to renew work permits for North Koreans, more than a month after a group of 35 North Korean workers returned home because their employers did not renew their work authorization.

The actions may be a response to increased scrutiny of North Korean laborers in the country in the aftermath of the assassination of Kim Jong Nam at an airport in Kuala Lumpur.

Kim was the older half-brother of leader Kim Jong Un. The Pyongyang regime is suspected of playing a behind-the-scenes role in the slaying of the older Kim in February, who had been living as an exile in the gambling haven of Macau, adjacent to Hong Kong.

As relations deteriorated between the two countries the Malaysian government may have turned to supporting the United States in its effort to rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, according to Kyodo.

North Korea deploys tens of thousands of workers overseas and earn hundreds of millions of dollars for the Kim regime.

In Malaysia, before the assassination, North Koreans worked in labor-intensive sectors like coal mining and construction.

There were about 1,000 North Korean workers in Borneo, but after Kim’s assassination most of the laborers returned home, according to the Japanese news agency.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cited the employment of North Korean forced laborers in China as a reason for downgrading Beijing’s human trafficking record.

In May the U.S. House of Representatives voted to enforce secondary sanctions against non-U.S. firms for hiring North Korean workers.

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