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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

China cancels troop leave at N.Korea border-report

DANDONG, China, Oct 10 (Reuters) - China has cancelled leave for troops along at least part of the border with North Korea, a mainland-controlled Hong Kong newspaper reported on Tuesday, a day after the North announced a nuclear test.

The Wen Wei Po said Chinese People's Liberation Army troops ranged along the border in northeast China's Jilin province "have had leave totally cancelled" and some forces were conducting "anti-chemical" training exercises.

But trains between the two countries appeared to be running as normal.

Officials and businessmen in Dandong, a bustling Chinese border city that looks across the Yalu River to North Korea, told Reuters on Monday that traffic across a bridge between the two countries would halt on Tuesday except for special official cars.

A customs official said the main customs posts on North Korea's border with China would shut to most traffic on Tuesday, restricting one of the isolated North's key portals to the outside world.

It was unclear whether the moves were prompted by Pyongyang's reported nuclear test on Monday and the strikingly sharp condemnation it drew from China, its longtime partner and aid-provider.

Beijing condemned the test as "brazen" and Chinese President Hu Jintao warned the North and other powers against escalating the crisis.

In a phone call with U.S. President George W. Bush, Hu warned North Korea "not to take any more actions that may worsen the situation", according to the official Xinhua news agency.

But Hu, who was feted as a friend of North Korea when he visited late last year, said there was still room for negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions.

"China has consistently advocated denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and opposed nuclear proliferation, arguing for peaceful settlement of the Korean nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation," Hu said.

China's 1,400-km (870-mile) border with impoverished North Korea is guarded by troops on both sides.

The two communist neighbours are long-time allies, and in past years one of the Chinese troops' main tasks has been stopping North Korean refugees crossing into China, where they seek work or asylum in other countries.

Chinese commentators left no mistake that North Korea's nuclear announcement had badly bruised relations.

"North Korea's holding of a nuclear test has offended China and put China in a very awkward diplomatic spot," Xu Guangyu of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association told Ta Kung Pao, a Beijing-backed Hong Kong paper, on Tuesday.
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