155 Chinese workers pardoned

Updated: 2015-07-31 07:45

By Wang Xu(China Daily)

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Maintaining positive relations with Beijing a likely factor in loggers' release, expert says

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it values moves by the Myanmar government to secure the release of 155 Chinese workers who were granted a presidential pardon on Thursday. They had been detained since January.

The workers returned to China through Tengchong in Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, at about 7 pm.

The workers were accused of illegal logging, even though they believed they were operating under a proper license.

After the pardon, the workers boarded buses and headed toward the border, where they were reunited with their families.

"We value the Myanmar government's move, and we have had intensive communication with it to get the workers back," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Thursday.

The workers, including two minors, were employed as loggers in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, close to the Chinese border. Last week, a court in Myanmar sentenced them to between 10 and 35 years in prison.

According to Myanmar Times, a document issued by the Kachin Independence Army authorizing the logging was seized when the Chinese workers were arrested.

Jia Duqiang, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the severe sentences may serve as a warning to those considering business deals with Myanmar's ethnic groups, as such arrangements may not be sanctioned by the country's authorities.

Jia said efforts made by the Chinese government for the loggers' release was one factor in resolving the situation. The other likely factor was the great importance Myanmar attaches to its relationship with China.

The workers arrived at the border on Thursday evening after their release from Myitkyina prison in the main city of Kachin state, according to China Central Television.

Their families and other loved ones were waiting in Houqiao, a township in Tengchong county, Yunnan, to greet them and celebrate their freedom.

Along with the Chinese loggers, 6,966 prisoners, including political ones, were pardoned by Myanmar President U Thein Sein.

He did so "on humanitarian grounds and in view of national reconciliation", according to a statement posted on Myanmar's Information Ministry website.