North Korean man's killing of family of 3 in China could strain ties

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A North Korean murdered a Chinese family of three last year, Chinese media said, the second recent reported killing of Chinese citizens by North Koreans that could strain ties between Pyongyang and its sole major ally.

The family was killed last September in a town in Jilin, which borders North Korea, the Beijing News said late on Tuesday.

The victims were a 64-year-old man, his 60-year-old wife and their 25-year-old son, the newspaper said, citing a relative, a man surnamed Yong. The North Korean man stole 500 yuan (S$107), a handbag and two mobile phones, the paper said.

The killer was caught by North Korean soldiers on his return, the paper said.

Mr Yong was quoted as saying that the North Koreans "come over regularly, demanding money and food".

"When they enter (the village), they directly ask for money and demand food," he said. "They have weapons. No one dares to not give them (what they want)."

A police officer in Jilin told Reuters he had no information on the case. Calls to the Jilin government went unanswered.

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.

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

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

In a rare criticism of the Chinese government, the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid owned by the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, expressed annoyance that people had to find out about the killing of the four Chinese nationals through the South Korean media first.

In an editorial on Tuesday, it asked why there was an extra layer of sensitivity towards North Korea and said the Chinese government "should not be too accommodating".

"North Korea's national situation truly is unusual, but we believe that the China-North Korea relationship is not that fragile," the newspaper said.

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