Burma Sentences Chinese Nationals to Life for Illegal Logging

By Aung Hla Tun 23 July 2015

China has lodged a diplomatic protest with Burma after a court in the southeast Asian nation sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life imprisonment for illegal logging.

China’s voracious demand for Burma’s raw materials has fuelled resentment in Burma towards its giant northern neighbor.

Regions along Burma’s porous border with China have long been hotbeds for an illegal trade in timber to feed Chinese demand. Much of Burma’s jade is also believed to be illegally smuggled into China.

A court in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in the north of Burma, handed down sentences to 155 Chinese citizens on Wednesday. Two of those convicted escaped life sentences and got 10-year prison terms.

All will have a chance to appeal against the rulings, said a court official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

An official from Myitkyina’s prison department confirmed the sentences.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it was “extremely concerned” about the decision and had lodged a protest with Burma.

“China had repeatedly, on many levels and through many channels, made representations with Myanmar about the case,” it said in a short statement.

China had demanded that Burma deal with the case “in a lawful, reasonable and justified manner” the Foreign Ministry added, so that the case could be concluded properly and the nationals returned.

The sentences were too harsh and may be due to anti-Chinese feeling in Burma, the influential Global Times tabloid, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Thursday.

“A few cases of Chinese engaging in illegal business in Myanmar have been scrutinized by public opinion, exaggerated as China’s economic ‘invasion’ of the latter,” it wrote.

The individuals were arrested in January in a crackdown on the country’s lucrative illegal logging and timber trade launched by the military, police and forestry department.

More than 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs were seized during the raid, state media said at the time.

In June, Aye Myint Maung, a deputy environment minister, told parliament that 10,000 tons of illegal timber had been seized from illegal loggers since January, most of it from Kachin State.

Kachin State has seen an increase in conflict since 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the Burma military and autonomy-seeking ethnic Kachin rebels broke down.

Ties between Burma and China soured this year over fighting between Burma’s military and another group, the ethnic Chinese Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, along part of the shared border.

Chinese citizens have been killed by stray shells and bombs falling inside China’s territory, angering Beijing.