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Myanmar, also known as Burma, has freed nearly 7,000 prisoners, including 155 Chinese nationals who last week were sentenced to life in prison 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 6,966 individuals will be freed from prisons across the country "on humanitarian grounds and in view of national reconciliation."

Other freed under the pardons issued by President Thein Sein included former military intelligence officials purged by their army colleagues more than a decade ago.

It was not clear if pro-democracy activists were among those being freed. The vast majority of those freed in mass pardons are common criminals. No official lists of pardoned prisoners are issued, so the names of those freed usually come from the prisoners themselves, or their families.

The pardons, effective from Thursday, were timed to coincide with a Buddhist religious holiday and come ahead of a November general election. The polls have triggered criticism that Thein Sein's government is backsliding on political reforms it promised upon taking power in 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule. Past Myanmar governments have released political prisoners as a way of assuaging criticism from abroad.

Eight former senior military intelligence officers who since 2004 have been serving jail terms of 80 years or more were pardoned, said members of their families. They include former Brig. Gen. Than Tun, who served as a liaison officer between the former military government and Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who was then under house arrest.

Although the major charges against the officers involved corruption, it was their ties to former intelligence chief and then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt that led to their jailing. Khin Nyunt led the losing faction in a power struggle within the then-ruling junta. He was released under an earlier pardon.

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. 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.

China is Myanmar's closest political and economic ally, but significant tensions exist between the nations. Chinese economic penetration is big and highly visible in northern Myanmar, and some large infrastructure and mining projects have drawn charges of being insensitive to environmental issue and local residents' concerns.

China is also seen as providing a safe haven for some Myanmar ethnic rebel groups with which Myanmar's government would like to reach cease-fire agreements.

Some material for this report came from the Associated Press.

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