Myanmar court jails 153 Chinese illegal loggers for life
Verdict draws criticism from Beijing amid crackdown on illegal logging in country’s mountainous north

A Myanmar court has jailed over 150 illegal Chinese loggers for life amid a crackdown on the trade in the country’s mountainous northern region, drawing criticism from Beijing.

Local media reported Thursday that Myanmar authorities arrested 155 people near the border with China in January, including two 17-year-old boys who this week were handed lighter sentences of 10 years because of their age.

The rest of the group are likely to serve up to 20 years for violating a law against destroying public property, while one woman received an extra 15 years for drug possession.

China’s foreign ministry says that the group was tricked into being part of the logging operation, and called on Myanmar to "deal with the matter in a lawful, reasonable and sensible way.”

Foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang added China is "highly concerned” with the verdict, according to a report in Xinhua, a Chinese state-backed news agency.

An editorial in the Global Times newspaper, which is run by the ruling Communist Party, condemned the sentences and said that cases of Chinese nationals doing business illegally had been "exaggerated” to suggest an economic invasion of Myanmar.

"It is extremely rare that over 150 people would be punished so severely for the same reason,” the editorial added after the sentences were handed down Wednesday in Myitkyina, the Kachin state capital.

Khin Maung, a lawyer who represented the loggers during their trial, told the Democratic Voice of Burma Thursday that he would file an appeal against the verdict if his clients wanted.

A war between government forces and guerrillas from the Kachin Independence Army has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in illegal logging since a ceasefire broke down in 2011, according to reports.

This year’s crackdown on the trade saw authorities seize over 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs, according to Myanmar state media.

Last Modified: 2015-07-24 07:07:21
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