Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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153 Chinese Loggers Sentenced to Life Imprisonment in Myanmar

China, Myanmar 153 Illegal Loggers

(Photo : REUTERS/Stringer) Beijing has protested against the life sentences handed to about 153 Chinese nationals in Myanmar on Wednesday.

Myanmar judicial authorities have sentenced about 153 Chinese nationals to life imprisonment for carrying out illegal logging operations in the country. The sentencing was reported by the Chinese government-run news outlets on Thursday. 

The BBC reported that aside from the 153 Chinese, two minor males were handed a ten-year sentence. A female, who was among those arrested, was also handed an extra 15-year prison sentence for illegal drug possesion.

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The Chinese loggers were caught by Myanmar soldiers in the province of Kachin in January. Since then, China's foreign affairs ministry has been pleading their case. Chinese officials say the arrested group were "misled" by certain unidentified persons to conduct logging operations in Myanmar.

China's foreign affairs released a statement on Thursday that it is worried for the safety of the loggers. China has asked Myanmar to expatriate the return of the arrested citizens back to China. 

Chinese diplomats have reportedly conveyed the country's apprehension that the life sentences handed to the loggers is simply too harsh for the offense they have committed.

Channel News Asia reported that Beijing hopes that Myanmar will reverse the sentence or at least lower the sentences. Aside from the 153 sentenced, it is believed that many more Chinese loggers are serving various prison sentences in Myanmar.

Logging was often tolerated during the military-regime in Myanmar due to the hard currency that it brought. However, since government control returned to civilian hands four years ago, officials have tried to curb illegal logging. There is a ban on the exportation of the harvested logs in the country. 

Nonetheless, illegal logging is reported to still flourish near the China-Myanmar border. Aside from illegally harvested timber, jades are also being exported illegally out of the country.

It is believed that the arrested Chinese loggers were under the protection of an insurgent group called the Kachin Independent Army. However, the Kachins have disavowed any association with the group.

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