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Myanmar Frees Chinese Loggers in Prisoner Amnesty

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, also known as Burma, has freed nearly 7,000 prisoners, including 155 Chinese nationals who last week received long prison sentences for illegal logging.

The Chinese loggers were among 210 foreigners freed in the amnesty, according to China's official Xinhua news agency, which quoted a "higher official."

"(The prisoners) will be deported beginning Thursday with a view to maintaining mutual friendship and ties with related countries and on social ground," Xinhua said.

Myanmar's Information Ministry said the 6,966 individuals will be freed from prisons across the country "on humanitarian grounds and in view of national reconciliation."

It is not clear whether any political prisoners were included in the amnesty, which comes just ahead of a Buddhist holiday.

The Chinese loggers were arrested in January during a crackdown on the illegal timber trade in Kachin state, along Myanmar’s border with China.

Last week, a court in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina sentenced 153 of the loggers to life in prison and two others to 10-year terms. China had expressed "extreme concern" about the verdict and demanded its citizens be returned “as soon as possible.”

Illegal logging is widely considered a major problem in Myanmar, where ethnic rebel groups have been fighting the government for decades.

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