Police in northeastern China’s Jilin Province are conducting a manhunt for three North Korean soldiers who deserted their units and crossed into China and went on an armed robbery spree, sources in both countries told RFA on Friday.
The three were part of a group of five who crossed from North Korea’s Yanggang Province into Jilin’s Changbai Korean Autonomous County on Sunday and went on robbery rampage for several days, sources in Changbai told RFA’s Cantonese Service.
The North Korea deserters were surrounded by Chinese armed police on Thursday and exchanged fire, injuring two Chinese police. Two of the deserters were captured in the Malugou area of Changbai, the sources said.
A staffer at the Changbai Binguan, a local hotel, told RFA that authorities issued an alert telling local residents to be vigilant and avoid going out at night until the three men are caught.
“We didn’t know the North Korean soldiers had entered our area until we received a notice from the public security bureau 5 days ago. They said four or five Koreans came to our area, and they told residents to stay alert,” said the hotel worker, who declined to be identified because China treats such matters as a secret.
“We haven’t had any problem in the hotel, but we can’t guarantee our safety, so we’re just not going out at night,” the worker said.
A source in Yanggang province told RFA that the five had deserted the 47th Infantry Sniper Unit and were among several dozen soldiers who had deserted recently.
“According to the military police and state security in Hyesan, 44 soldiers have deserted from military unit in Yanggang Province as of July 27,” the source told RFA’s Korean Service.
A second North Korean source, based in Changbai, gave a slightly different account of the incident, saying some of the deserters had murdered an elderly couple on Wednesday, but that the two soldiers arrested were robbers who were not involved in the killings.
“The murder involving North Korean soldiers took place at dawn on July 27, at an isolated house,” the source told RFA.
This source said the five troops had deserted during a training mission and that only the unit leader was armed.
China has imposed blanket secrecy on the case, as it normally does on sensitive issues surrounding its relations with North Korea.
Attempts by RFA to clarify facts and details with police in Malugou were rebuffed.
“Why are you asking this? I can’t tell you, understand? This is our internal affair,” an officer from Malugou police station told RFA.
Reported by RFA’s Korean and Cantonese Services. Translated by Jacqueline Yoo and Vivian Kwan. Written in English by Paul Eckert.