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China Deploys Troops Along N. Korean Border - 2003-09-15

China says it is deploying army troops along the North Korean border, but is denying reports of a major build up.

The People's Liberation Army is taking on patrol duties along China's border with North Korea. A statement from the Foreign Ministry on Monday said the military's new job was a "normal adjustment," that had been planned years ago.

The Foreign Ministry's statement followed news reports that troops were being amassed along the border to combat an increase in crimes committed by North Korean soldiers.

Other reports speculate that the military's role may be to stem the flow of North Korean refugees into northeastern China. Refugee advocates say hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have crossed into China, fleeing conditions of extreme poverty and repression in their country.

China has an agreement to repatriate North Koreans who try to escape to Chinese territory, but Beijing has on some occasions allowed refugees to go on to third countries.

China, which recently hosted six-nation talks on ending the nuclear crisis, fears a nuclear buildup by North Korea could destabilize the Korean Peninsula. China is one of North Korea's few remaining allies and is a crucial supplier of food and fuel to the impoverished nation.

A report in a Hong Kong newspaper quoted an unidentified source as saying 150,000 Chinese troops have been deployed along the border recently. The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday is denying a massive troop deployment.

Monday's Foreign Ministry statement, however, came weeks after Western journalists pressed the government with questions about reports of a mass deployment.