Chinese nationals sentenced to life for illegal logging in Myanmar

YANGON (REUTERS) - A court in Myanmar has sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life imprisonment for illegal logging, a court official said on Wednesday.

A court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State in the north of the country, handed down sentences to 155 Chinese citizens. Two of the convicted escaped life sentences and were served with 10-year prison terms.

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

Officials from the Chinese Embassy in Yangon were not immediately available for comment. China's Foreign Ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

According to state media at the time, more than 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs were seized during the raid.

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

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

China's voracious demand for Myanmar's raw materials has contributed to a degree of resentment in Myanmar towards its giant northern neighbour.

Aye Myint Maung, deputy minister from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, told parliament in June that 10,000 tons of illegal timber had been seized from illegal loggers since January, most of it was from Kachin State, he said.

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