North Korean border guards have reportedly shot dead five North Korean refugees after pursuing them across the frozen Yalu river, which forms a natural border with neighboring China.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that border guards pursued seven refugees across the river into China. “Five of them died instantly under intensive gunfire by North Korean border guards who had run after them and the two others were wounded and taken to the North,” the paper said. The reports indicated that the guards dragged the bodies and the injured back across the border with permission from Chinese authorities.
This is the first time in years there have been reports of defectors being shot. In fact North Korean border guards have never shot defectors once they had reached the Chinese side. The paper suggested the guards could have been given new directives on dealing with would-be defectors.
Many North Korean defectors escape through China, finding sanctuary with ethnic Koreans in the border regions of China, and then make their way to South Korea. In some cases China has returned defectors, leaving them to an uncertain fate. In general the area is like many border regions – deeply porous and difficult to monitor. Moreover, there is considerable traffic, both trade and human, across the frontier.