Twelve armed North Korean soldiers apparently defected across the border to China's Jilin Province earlier this month but were captured by Chinese troops and sent back to the North.
Late last month, two North Korean soldiers shot and killed their senior officer and fled to Jilin Province, prompting experts to suspect something unusual is going on in army units stationed along the border with China.
The 12 North Korean soldiers stationed with a border unit defected across the Chinese border in two groups but were sent back after being captured by Chinese troops, a diplomatic source in Beijing said Thursday.
Another source in the Chinese town of Yanji near the border with North Korea, said the other two North Korean soldiers shot and killed their senior officer and crossed over the border into Changbai, Jilin Province, causing Chinese troops nearby to scramble into emergency mode.
The spate of defections may be related to food shortages. International aid to the North has dropped sharply since it launched a rocket in April last year, affecting the food situation for soldiers as well as ordinary people. With food rationing concentrated in Pyongyang and military units along the border with South Korea, troops on the border with China are apparently subsisting on corn and potatoes they grow on their own.
"As spring progresses and crop inventories are depleted further, we may see an increase in the number of defecting soldiers," said an informed source.
Meanwhile, China is still apparently sending back North Korean civilian defectors as well. Eight North Korean defectors who were caught by Chinese security officers in Yanji earlier this month were transferred to a camp for defectors in Tumen and all sent back across the border, according to a source.
Five of them were children, some of whom had reportedly scraped a living by begging for food.
One of two South Korean citizens who were caught along with North Korean defectors was deported to the South on Wednesday. They were former defectors from the North and had entered China to help their families escape North Korea.