Beijing reacted angrily last week after more than 150 Chinese nationals were given life prison sentences for illegal logging by a court in the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, reports said.
The sentences were imposed on 153 loggers, with another two men aged under 18 handed 10-year prison terms and a woman jailed for 15 years on drug charges, a court official told AFP newsagency on July 22.
They were arrested in January during an operation near the border with China that also resulted in the seizure of about 500 logs and more than 400 logging trucks and other equipment.
A life sentence in Myanmar is 20 years, legal sources said.
A statement on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website on July 23 called on Myanmar to “deal with this case in a lawful, reasonable and justified manner…and return those people to China as soon as possible”.
Information Minister U Ye Htut said the government would not interfere in the judicial process.
“When our citizens break the law in other countries, (they) face sentence by those country’s laws. We cannot use diplomacy to intervene. I think China will understand,” U Ye Htut, who is also the government spokesperson, told AFP.
“What is really needed is to stop illegal logging in the future,” he said.
Myanmar banned the export of logs in April last year in an attempt to reduce deforestation, but illegal logging has continued in remote border areas.
Government figures show that forest cover in Myanmar fell from 58 percent in 1990 to 47 percent in 2010.