China says North Korea deserter who reportedly killed 4 Chinese died from injuries

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - A North Korean army deserter who crossed the border and reportedly killed four Chinese people in a robbery last month has died from injuries suffered during his capture, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said late on Wednesday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a brief statement posted on the ministry's website that Chinese police immediately arrested the suspect after the incident, but that the soldier had subsequently died from the wounds. "The North Korean side expressed regret over the incident and extended sympathies to the families of the victims," Mr Hong said.

Chinese officials have not confirmed the number of victims in the incident that reportedly happened after the soldier crossed the border in search of food.

On Monday, China said it had lodged a protest with North Korea after media reports said the Korean People's Army deserter had killed four Chinese during a robbery in the Chinese border city of Helong late last month.

China is North Korea's most important diplomatic and economic ally, though three nuclear tests, several rounds of sabre rattling and violence on the China-North Korea border have tested Beijing's support.

The 521km- long Tumen River that divides China and North Korea is a popular breakout route used by defectors fleeing the secretive state.

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