07/23/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR - CHINA
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Myanmar sentences 153 Chinese illegal loggers to life imprisonment

The group were arrested in January in Kachin state, close to the Chinese border. More than 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs were seized during the raid. China has expressed concern about the severity of the sentences. Life sentences in Myanmar usually last 20 years.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A court in northern Myanmar has sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life in prison for illegal logging. The group were arrested in January in Kachin state, close to the Chinese border, during a military operation to crack down on illegal logging.

The court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state, also sentenced two 17-year-old boys to 10-year jail terms, and a woman in the group was given an additional 15 years for drug possession.

According to state media, more than 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs were seized during the raid. The Chinese nationals can appeal the rulings, and Beijing is already providing legal counsel.

China has expressed concern about the severity of the sentences. Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China had repeatedly raised the issue with Myanmar since the arrests of the group. According to China, the defendants were tricked into carrying out the logging.

Life sentences in Myanmar usually last 20 years. Logging - often using working elephants - was rife under Myanmar's military junta, depleting much of Myanmar's forests.

The military-backed civilian government, which came to power in 2011, has been trying to rein in the industry, and last year banned the export of raw timber. But critics say illegal loggers are often able to make deals with the warlords who operate in remote regions close to the border.

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