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Students claim police forced arson confession

TWO students in Yunnan Province are seeking an apology from police who, they claim, forced them to confess to starting a fatal forest fire earlier this year.

The students, Yang Qiao and Yang Rui, are suing the Kunming Forest Police's Jinning Branch and the Jinning County Forest Bureau. The Jinning County People's Court yesterday agreed to hear the case, the Shanghai Morning Post reported.

The students are also asking for compensation of one yuan (15 US cents) for mental anguish.

The police and the forest authority declined to comment yesterday.

Yang Qiao, Yang Rui and Zhang Liutao were accused of causing a forest fire that started on February 2 in Jinning, 60 kilometers from Yunnan's capital Kunming City. Police said they had left burning cigarette butts on the ground and these had ignited dry grass which resulted in the forest fire.

The students were not punished, however.

But the students deny the charges, saying local police forced them to confess.

The police had threatened them by saying they would arrest their mothers and fathers if they did not confess, the parents of Yang Rui and Yang Qiao told the Shanghai Morning Post.

Zhang Liutao was so frightened by the police he was taken to hospital, they said.

The boys had been smoking, according to their lawyer Yang Guangren, but that was 3 kilometers from where the fire started.

They also had proof they were nowhere near the scene when the fire started, he said.

They didn't visit the scene of the fire until hearing about it on the village radio station, he said.

One of the accused, Yang Rui, was in a town 10 kilometers away two hours before the fire started, he noted.

The February 2 blaze in Jinning's Sanjia Village took more than 1,000 firefighters and police 14 hours to bring under control.

Li Kunpeng, 37, director of the fire prevention office of the county's forestry bureau, died while fighting the fire.

The fire swept over more than 130 hectares but no homes or crops were lost.


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