Myanmar junta sentences 28 for attacks on Chinese-owned factories

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Myanmar's junta has handed out lengthy prison sentences to almost 30 people for torching Chinese-owned factories, state media said.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the generals ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with more than 800 civilians killed in an ongoing bloody crackdown, by a local monitoring group's count.

According to Chinese state media, demonstrators in the commercial capital Yangon torched dozens of Chinese-owned textile factories in March, causing around $37 million in damage.

Twitter accounts of Myanmar pro-democracy groups allege -- without offering clear proof -- that the army carried out the factory attacks to justify a crackdown in which dozens of protesters died.

Beijing -- Myanmar's top foreign investor -- said two employees were also injured and demanded the immediate protection of Chinese citizens and property.

On Monday, a junta tribunal sentenced 28 people to 20 years in prison for attacks on the Myanmar Rong Wei New shoes factory and Yuan Hong Garment factory, Myanmar state media reported Thursday.

Nineteen of the convicted were still on the run, it added.

Beijing enjoys exceptional leverage over Myanmar and has refused to label the military action a coup.

It supplies Myanmar with military hardware but observers say it also maintains alliances with some ethnic militias on the long China border that have been fighting the army for decades.

During a January 2020 visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping elevated the Southeast Asian neighbour to "country of shared destiny" status, Beijing's highest diplomatic stripe.

The aim was to nudge Myanmar politically towards China -- and away from the United States -- and drive through projects worth billions of dollars under the Belt and Road Initiative, including an oil and gas pipeline and a port to the Indian Ocean.

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