Chinese guards shot dead a suspected North Korean defector near the border on Thursday, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported, citing Chinese state media. The incident reportedly took place in the Chinese town of Nanping, north of the Tumen River that divides the two countries.

The suspected defector was reportedly resisting arrest when the guards shot him at about 3:55 a.m., local time, (2:55 p.m. EDT Wednesday) Yonhap reported. A brief statement by the Helong city government in Jilin province in northeast China, cited by the Associated Press (AP), said that the shooting was under investigation.

The 880-mile border is often used by refugees from North Korea to enter China, which is bound by a treaty to return them. North Korea is known to deal harshly with the defectors, who are often handed down labor camp sentences and execution. Very few North Korean defectors are believed to be in China as most of them make their way to South Korea.

Latest estimates show a slight fall in the number of refugees from North Korea due to an improvement in the country‚Äôs economic conditions and tightened border security, the AP reported. Border patrols by Chinese authorities increased after an alleged North Korean army soldier killed four Chinese nationals during a robbery attempt last year.