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Freeing of Chinese Loggers Riles Myanmar Citizens

  • Reuters

FILE - Chinese nationals, believed to be involved in illegal logging, arrive at a court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State in the north of Myanmar, July 22, 2015.

FILE - Chinese nationals, believed to be involved in illegal logging, arrive at a court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State in the north of Myanmar, July 22, 2015.

Myanmar's newspapers and social media users reacted with anger and disappointment on Friday to the government's decision to include 155 Chinese in a mass amnesty, just eight days after they were jailed for illegal logging.

News journals slammed the freeing of the loggers, 153 of whom had been sentenced to life imprisonment, while Internet and social media users vented frustration over what they saw as the government caving in to pressure from its massive neighbor.

"I hope the Chinese government reads this," Facebook user Ye Moe said in a post that had received around 1,200 "likes."

"Though you got 153 people back, you also received the hatred of 51 million Myanmar people."

The Chinese were jailed in northern Kachin state bordering China on July 22 and freed in an amnesty for 6,966 prisoners on Thursday, which included some journalists and activists.

China ties

China enjoyed a cozy relationship with Myanmar during 49 myears of military rule in which the country was subject to sanctions and isolation by much of the West.

Myanmar has re-engaged with many countries since a quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011, but China remains an important diplomatic and economic ally.

Thaung Su Nyein, managing director of Information Matrix, which publishes several news journals, said the government had made no effort to explain its decision to free the loggers and the public's only channel to oppose it was social media.

"There's no explanation — nothing at all," he said. "In Myanmar, we can only talk on Facebook."

China's voracious demand for Myanmar's natural resources has fueled resentment in Myanmar and relations have been strained this year over fighting between its army and a rebel militia that has seen Chinese citizens killed by stray bombs in border areas.

The Chinese loggers were arrested in January and their sentencing prompted a diplomatic protest by Beijing.

Friday's edition of the daily English-language Myanmar Times carried the headline: "Amnesty disappoints as Chinese loggers go free."

There were also political cartoons circulating online lampooning the government's leniency and fear of China, one of which depicted a Myanmar student eagerly rushing towards a school.

"After realizing who is above the law, I decided to take Chinese language classes," the man is pictured saying.

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