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Korean-Chinese priest presumed to have been killed by N.K. security agents

Three North Korean security agents might have killed an ethnic Korean priest who was found dead in a Chinese border town last week, the head of a group of South Korean abductees' families said Monday.

The Chinese national, only identified by his surname Han and known as a supporter of North Korean defectors, was found dead on Saturday in a northeastern Chinese town near the border with North Korea.

Han is believed to have been murdered by three North Korean agents who were dispatched to the Chinese northeastern province of Jilin right before the incident, Choi Sung-yong, the head of the group of families for South Koreans abducted by North Korea, said, quoting what he heard from North Korean defectors.

"The agents are known to have returned to their country," Choi said. "The priest has long supported North Korean defectors. North Korea seems to judge that his church is being used as a hideout for such North Koreans."

Han is known to have served at a church in Changbai county where many ethnic Koreans living in China reside.

Chinese police have launched a probe into Han's death.

The murder follows the April mass defection of a group of 13 North Koreans who worked at a North Korea-run restaurant in the Chinese eastern port city of Ningbo.

The North claimed that South Korea had kidnapped them, calling for their repatriation, but South Korea brushed off such claims as unfounded.

Choi claimed that North Korea ordered its security agents to abduct religious leaders in Chinese towns near the border in a bid to stem North Koreans' latest mass defections.

South Korea's unification ministry said Monday that there has been no information about any specific plans from North Korea to abduct South Korean nationals abroad.

"The government is keeping a close tab on North Korea's possible abductions or other terrorist acts on South Koreans," Jeong Joon-hee, a ministry spokesman, said in a regular press briefing.

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