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Gunmen release Chinese fishing boat

BEIJING -- Gunmen wearing North Korean military uniforms released a Chinese fishing boat yesterday after holding its crew for two weeks, beating up the captain and stealing the vessel's fuel, the boat's owner said. He added that the hijackers did not get the $100,000 ransom they had demanded.

The seizure May 5 in what boat owner Yu Xuejun said were Chinese waters was the latest irritant in relations between North Korea and a Chinese government increasingly frustrated with its neighboring ally over tests of its nuclear and rocket technologies in defiance of United Nations bans. One of China's North Korea watchers said rogue border guards were probably responsible, rather than the Pyongyang government itself.

Yu said in an interview that the men were allowed to move around the boat while they were held captive, but were locked in a room at night. He said the captain suffered an arm injury when he was beaten, but he has since recovered, and that no other crew member was harmed. They now planned to stay out at sea for another 10 days.

"The North Koreans only left the crew with one sack of rice and one sack of flour. But this shouldn't be a problem as there are a lot of boats in that region now, all from Dalian," he said, referring to the northeast China port where his boat is based. "With their help, the crews will do OK for the next eight or 10 days."

Yu publicized the boat's capture over the weekend on the Twitter-like Tencent Weibo as a ransom deadline neared. China then publicly demanded that North Korea release the men, though Chinese officials have not said whether they believe the armed captors were operating on their own or under North Korean government authority.

No ransom was paid, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news briefing yesterday.

"We demand North Korea investigate this case fully and furnish China with details, and take measures to stop such cases repeating themselves," Hong said.

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