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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 March 2008, 18:28 GMT
North Koreans 'shot at frontier'
Border between China and North Korea marked by the Yalu River at Dandong, China
Thousands of North Koreans try to cross into China in search of food
North Korea has executed 15 people in public for trying to flee or help others to escape across the border into China, according to an aid group.

Good Friends, based in South Korea, said the 13 women and two men were shot on a bridge in the north-eastern town of Onseong two weeks ago.

The aid group said those executed had been trying to get economic help from relatives already in China.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans are thought to be in hiding in China.

In a newsletter, Good Friends said residents who witnessed the shooting were shocked at the harshness of the punishment. Some were crying at the scene, it reported.

The group quoted a woman as saying: "Everyone is anxious about a lack of food. The shooting has made people angry."

'Shot as a warning'

A local North Korean official is also quoted in the newsletter.

A woman collects international food aid in North Korea.
Many North Koreans are relying on international food supplies
"It has become a daily routine for a few residents to disappear and illegally cross the border to visit relatives in China," he is reported as saying.

"We shot them to send a warning to people over this."

There has been no official word from North Korea on the executions and South Korea's Unification Ministry said it could not confirm the report.

Acute food shortages have led to thousands of North Koreans fleeing their homeland through China.

Food aid

Many hope to make their way to South Korea - the Unification Ministry in Seoul says more than 12,000 North Koreans have fled to the south since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Others cross the border into China with the intention of returning with food supplies.

North Korea received hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food aid last year, more than half of it from Seoul.

An unusually dry and mild winter has raised fears of worse shortages to come.

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