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ILO: Burma Accepts Liaison Officer - 2002-03-21


The Geneva-based International Labor Organization says Burma has accepted the appointment of a liaison officer to help eradicate forced labor in the country.

The decision was a major change for Burmese officials. Only last month, the military government blocked international efforts to halt Burma's army from using forced labor.

But a senior ILO official, Francis Maupain, says Burma now has agreed to have an ILO liaison officer living inside the country to investigate the labor issue.

Mr. Maupain says the liaison officer will give information and advice to people facing forced labor. He says the officer will help authorities implement Burma's decree, of last year, abolishing forced labor.

He says the ILO officer will suggest other training possibilities to authorities in Burma's military who are involved in the use of forced labor.

Mr. Maupin says Burma, also called Myanmar, must stop its use of forced labor for public projects because it lacks funds to pay workers. "If the authorities show a sufficient commitment to eradicate forced labor and to establish their will to do it and take all the means to eradicate it, then presumably that would put a strong signal to investors to come back to Myanmar," he said. "Then you will restart, if you like, an economy, which gives you the means to conduct these public works."

The ILO says the Burmese army is forcing villagers to farm and work on public projects near the Thai border, where the army is fighting ethnic-minority soldiers.

The ILO says it is not possible to know the exact number of forced laborers in Burma. It insists the liaison officer have freedom to move around the country and report on the labor situation on regular intervals.

But the organization discounted the possibility of ending sanctions against Burma at this time.

The U.N. human rights investigator for Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, welcomed the decision. "The presence of ILO will be an extraordinary contribution to fight forced labor," he said. "I think it is a breakthrough. It is so important as the presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross is also having an impact on [Burmese] prisons."

Mr. Pinheiro says it is important to keep pressing Burma's government on human rights matters. He says this will help lead to greater political freedom for the opponents of the military government.

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