PYONGYANG, North Korea, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- An unknown number of Chinese troops are stationed in North Korea's northeastern Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone, sources told South Korea's Chosun Ilbo.
The newspaper reported it was not known how many Chinese troops are in the area but would be the first time such a step has been taken since Chinese troops withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission in the truce village of Panmunjom in December 1994.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Monday rejected the report as "sheer fabrication," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted a South Korean official as saying North Korea and China had reportedly discussed stationing a small number of Chinese troops in the Rajin-Sonbong region to protect port facilities in which China has invested.
"If it's true, they're apparently there to protect either facilities or Chinese residents rather than for political or military reasons," the official was quoted as saying.
The report quoted a China-based source familiar with North Korean affairs as saying: "In the middle of the night around Dec. 15 last year, about 50 Chinese armored vehicles and tanks crossed the Duman (Tumen) River from Sanhe into the North Korean city of Hoeryong in North Hamgyong Province." Hoeryong is about 30 miles from Rajin-Sonbong, the report said.
"The Chinese armored vehicles could be used to suppress public disturbances and the jeeps to round up … defectors from the North," the source told the newspaper.