Beijing has lodged a formal complaint with Pyongyang after an apparent North Korean army deserter sneaked into China and killed four people in a border town, a Chinese official said Monday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had "made representations" to North Korea and that Chinese authorities were "handling the case according to law."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quoting an unidentified source, said the North Korean man killed four Chinese in an apparent robbery in the border town of Nanping, just north of the Tumen River that separates the two countries.
China's state-run media have not reported details of the incident, but South Korea's Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, quoting "Chinese news sources," said the man was 26 years old and armed with a pistol. He broke into the homes of two ethnic Korean Chinese citizens in their 60s and 70s, shot them and stole about $16, the paper said.
The highly unusual incident occurred Dec. 27, Yonhap said, and Chinese authorities detained the alleged gunman after a manhunt. Dong-A Ilbo said the suspect was shot by Chinese police and remained in a coma Monday. The paper added that North Korea had "reorganized the deployment of its military units" near the Chinese border in the wake of the incident, though it provided no attribution for that assertion.
Yonhap said it was "not uncommon" for North Koreans to cross the border and attempt robberies.
In December 2013, a North Korean defector killed a Chinese couple in the border city of Yanji and stole about $3,200, Yonhap said, adding that the defector was caught by Chinese authorities after fleeing to Beijing.
Impoverished North Korea maintains a generally isolationist foreign policy, but many Chinese cross the Tumen border for trade, while North Koreans head north into China looking for food, jobs or safe passage to South Korea.