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Myanmar has sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life in prison for illegal logging in northern Kachin State.

A court in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina handed down the sentences Wednesday. Two other Chinese nationals were given prison terms of 10 years each.

Lawyer Khin Maung, who represented the Chinese defendants, tells VOA's Burmese service that the sentences were handed out by two judges.

“They are in two groups; the first group totals to 85 and the other 70. A judge of Myitkyina District Court decided life imprisonment to 83 of the first group and 10 years imprisonment to the other two who are just youths. Another judge of the District Court decided 20 years imprisonment to all of second group, and it’s same as the life imprisonment," he said.

All of the defendants will have a chance to appeal the rulings.

The state-run Beijing Times newspaper quotes a Chinese Embassy official as saying Beijing is concerned about the verdicts and is discussing the matter with Myanmar's foreign ministry.

The Chinese nationals were arrested in January during a crackdown on the illegal timber trade in Kachin State.

Authorities at the time said they also seized 436 logging trucks, 14 pickup trucks loaded with logs, stimulant drugs, raw opium and Chinese currency.

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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