BEIJING, April 29 (UPI) -- China verified three Chinese nationals were killed on Saturday, in a region bordering North Korea, as some Chinese and South Korean media outlets reported the suspects were desperate North Korean soldiers.
The victims included a 55-year-old man with the surname Zhao, his daughter, 25, and a 67-year-old man with the surname Sun, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Two of the victims died immediately and one died while receiving treatment at a nearby hospital, according to locals in Jilin province.
China's Beijing News reported three suspects wearing North Korea military uniforms entered northeastern China's Jilin province. There, they killed the three Chinese nationals residing in a sub-district of Helong, a city with an ethnic Korean majority less than 25 miles from the North Korea border.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing has confirmed the killings and the police were investigating, reported The New York Times.
The incident is the third of its kind in this region closest to North Korea.
Last September a North Korean civilian who crossed into China killed a family of three while attempting a robbery, and in December an armed North Korean soldier killed four Chinese citizens because he was hungry – which drew formal complaints from Beijing.
Military personnel in North Korea are given food priority but low-level soldiers go hungry, making prosperous China an easy target for desperate North Koreans.
Jilin provincial police and the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture were jointly investigating the case with officials at the city of Helong, and have said it will take time to verify whether the criminals were North Korean military personnel.
Chinese residents near the border with North Korea have been living in fear for the last eight months, reported Yonhap, because of the arbitrariness of the robberies.
The latest incident is also likely to aggravate China-North Korea relations, which has chilled since North Korea's 2013 nuclear test and the execution of Jang Song Thaek by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.