Beijing has lodged a formal complaint with Pyongyang after a North Korean army deserter sneaked across the border and killed four Chinese villagers with a handgun.

While relations between isolated North Korea and China, its only significant ally, have grown strained in recent years, violent conflict along their 1,420km-long shared border is rare.

The 26-year-old soldier crossed the Tumen river from North Korea into north-eastern China’s Jilin province at about 7.30am on 27 December, South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap news agency reported, citing an anonymous source.

The soldier broke into the home of a 60-year-old ethnic Korean villager surnamed Xu and shot the man and his wife, killing them. He then entered the home of Xu’s neighbours – an elderly couple called Li – and beat them to death with his gun.

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