China executes two South Koreans for smuggling drugs from North Korea

SEOUL Wed Aug 6, 2014 5:48am EDT

SEOUL (Reuters) - China executed on Wednesday two South Koreans convicted of smuggling drugs from North Korea and will soon execute a third, the Yonhap news agency reported, quoting South Korea's foreign ministry.

It was the first time a South Korean had been executed in China since 2004. The two, identified by their last names Kim and Paek, and aged 53 and 45, were executed despite repeated South Korean pleas for leniency.

They were convicted by a court in the Chinese city of Baishan, in Jilin province, for smuggling 14 kg (30 lb) of methamphetamines from North Korea in 2010 and 2011.

South Korea's foreign ministry could not immediately confirm details of the case but a spokesman said the ministry was "deeply disappointed".

"We have passed on the request on various levels for humanitarian consideration after the conviction for execution was confirmed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said in a statement.

Despite the South Korean disappointment, the executions were unlikely to be a major setback to relations with China.

Political and commercial ties between the two countries have been improving in recent years as they try to rein in North Korea's nuclear-weapons ambitions and agree on a pact to boost their already strong trade.

A third South Korean, identified by the family name Chang, was convicted on similar charges in Qingdao city and had his death sentence confirmed by an appeals court last year, Yonhap said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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