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Beijing seeks return of 153 loggers sentenced to life in Myanmar

Beijing seeks return of 153 loggers sentenced to life in Myanmar

Foreign ministry voices ‘grave concern’ over trial in Myanmar and demands neighbour hand back Chinese workers ‘as soon as possible’
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 July, 2015

Beijing has criticised the long jail sentences a court in Myanmar handed to more than 150 Chinese loggers, asking its neighbour to “return those people to China as soon as possible”.
The foreign ministry had “voiced grave concern” over the trial, and asked the local authorities to “handle the case in a lawful, reasonable and justified manner”, spokesperson Lu Kang said.
A court in Kachin state near Yunnan  province on Wednesday sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life in prison for illegal logging, said Khin Maung, the lawyer of the defendants.

Another two minor offenders received 10-year sentences for the same offence, the lawyer said, adding that life terms were generally treated as 20 years in Myanmar’s judicial system and that the loggers had 60 days to appeal.
The loggers were arrested in January during a raid at camps in Kachin, where rebels have been battling the country’s government on and off for decades. Chinese loggers, who mainly did business with the rebels, kept sending wood back to China despite timber exports having been banned by Myanmar’s government in 2014.
A logger from Yunnan said that in the past arrested Chinese loggers were usually released shortly after their bosses – either mainland or Myanmese businessmen – bribed the authorities.
“But it’s different this time. They did not release my colleagues or return our trucks and equipment, though our bosses left no means untried,” he said.

Relations between the countries soured after the Thein Sein administration took office in 2011 and suspended the US$3.6 billion China-backed Myitsone Dam project. Stray fire from the Kokang conflict also killed five residents of Yunnan in March.
The Chinese embassy in Yangon said it was yet to receive any notifications from the local authorities. “We would not take the reported sentences as facts until we see the verdict,” it said.
Professor Fan Hongwei , at Xiamen University, said the sentences, if upheld by the high court, would exacerbate the strained relations. But they might win the Thein Sein administration support ahead of the presidential election in October or November, he said.