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Burma at the ILO Governing Body, ro

Agence France Presse
November 14, 2001

Myanmar says forced labour probe a "delicate and subtle" issue

      Myanmar appealed on Wednesday to the International Labour 
Organisation (ILO) to lift
      sanctions against it but said it could not accept a permanent 
presence to monitor forced

      Myanmar's ambassador, Mya Than, said at the beginning of a debate on 
an independent
      report on forced labour in the country commissioned by the ILO that 
the authorities were
      "not in a position to receive a permanent presence" of an ILO office 
in Yangon.

      "As a first step Myanmar is willing to receive visits of an ILO 
team," Mya Than added.
      "In such delicate and subtle issues it has to be done step-by-step," 
he told delegates
      from governments, employers and labour organisations at the ILO's 
governing body.

      The report found that forced labour was continuing, especially in a 
areas with a heavy
      military presence, and that legislation introduced by the ruling 
military junta last year had
      had a limited practical impact.

      Mya Than told the ILO that Myanmar had reservations on some 
unspecified points in the
      report but overall he welcomed it as a "significant event in our 

      He added that "the report is fairly balanced, it recognises the 
political will to eradicate
      forced labour that has been expressed in Myanmar," and called on the 
ILO "to review and
      lift measures" imposed on Myanmar during its next assembly in June 2002.

      The four independent experts on the team that prepared the report 
presented to the
      governing body on Wednesday are advocating a permanent ILO presence 
in Myanmar
      amongst their recommendations.

      "In all areas for which the High Level Team had information it was 
apparent that there
      was strong correlation between the presence of military camps and the 
practice of
      forced labour whether or not those troops were engaged in military 
activities," the report

      The team's three week ILO mission to the country followed the ILO's 
      censure of Myanmar last year, when it threatened to impose more 
sanctions on the
      country if it failed to curb forced labour.


Added Comments from our correspondent who was there.

This debatelet was just the warm-up. The main bout is set for tomorrow 

The AFP headline is a bit off -- it's the prospect of a permanent ILO 
presence in the country that was the "delicate and subtle" issue rather 
than the "probe". U Mya Than did not rule out the possibility, but said 
that like the negotiations with the ICRC from 1995 to 1998, such a presence 
would have to be done "step by step". He said that his government would be 
willing to give full access, as they had to the High-level Team (HLT), to 
an ILO presence based in Geneva or Bangkok. He stressed the convenience of 
Bangkok -- 1 hour flight to Rangoon and access to the Thai-Burma Border.

He didn't actually ask the Governing Body to lift the "sanctions" but to 
put Myanmar on the agenda for the 2002 International Labour Conference so 
it might "review the measures" [which the ILC had imposed in June 2000].

There were a few questions from the worker and employer delegates (no 
governments spoke), but the main focus was on prospects for an ILO 
presence. Burma's reluctance is likely to embarrass ASEAN, but it seems 
there's a story going round that China is encouraging the SPDC to dig its 
heels in.  Now why would that be?

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