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Burma Centrum Netherlands News (BCNN)

Amsterdam, 28 May, 1996.

An UNHCR official in Geneva of the Bangladesh-Myanmar Repatriation Unit 
declared on Tuesday that the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) 
has agreed to completely stop the practise of forced labour in Arakan State 
in Burma. According to the spokesman, whom the BCN contacted by telephone 
today, local authorities had agreed to this in talks with the UNHCR in 
Arakan two weeks ago. Khin Nyunt, SLORC secretary No.1, has recently paid a 
visit to Arakan. The UNHCR official stated that Khin Nyunt had conveyed the 
decision to the local authorities in Arakan. When asked, the official 
declared that the UNHCR considers the measures taken for an indefinite 
period, and that no time limit has been set.

The UNHCR estimated that the number of refugees who have arrived in 
Bangladesh recently amount to some 4.300. According to the spokesman, most 
of them have fled to Bangladesh for the first time. This number contradicts 
recent figures given by NGO's working in Bangladesh near the Burmese border, 
who have estimated the new arrivals at some 10.000. These new refugees are 
according to the UNHCR spokesman mainly economic immigrants. Human Rights 
Watch/Asia who visited the camps in late February denied the UNHCR claim, 
saying that forced labour and discrimination against the Muslims was the 
main reason for their flight. 

The UNHCR will initiate new programmes in the home villages of the new 
refugees. The spokesman stated that most of the new refugees were not 
admitted to the camps administered by the UNHCR in Bangladesh. He also said 
that there are still small numbers of refugees entering Bangladesh from Burma. 

Bangladesh has tried to deter the new arrivals, forcing as many as 1.000 
back to Burma and arresting 254 others. On March 20, fifteen asylum seekers 
were drowned when Bangladesh Border Rifles attempting to tow their boat away 
from the port of Teknaf.
The BCN remains concerned for the safety of all the new arrivals, only a 
small proportion of whom have been able to receive medical assistance and 
food aid from local and international non-governmental organisations.
BCN is onafhankelijke stichting. Doel: Nederlandse samenleving informeren 
over Burma. Het initieert en co-ordineert aktiviteiten die democratisering 
en duurzame ontwikkeling bevorderen. Het geeft een positieve bijdrage aan 
een constructieve dialoog tussen de diverse groeperingen.

Paulus Potterstraat 20
(31)20-6716952 (tel)
(31)20-6713513 (fax)

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