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Trade Union Group Charges Burma with Using Forced Labor - 2002-10-21


The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions says Burma is using more forced labor, often in projects involving foreign companies.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions wants foreign investment in Burma to be cut to curb the use of forced labor.

The trade union report was issued just before the European Union's general council meets to evaluate progress on political reform and human rights in Burma.

The EU review will rely on the views of a delegation that visited Burma in early September. There are signs the EU delegation may recommend that the European Union ease its economic sanctions against Burma's military government.

But International Confederation of Free Trade Unions spokesman James Lorenz says that would send the wrong signal to Rangoon. Although the government has released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and freed some political prisoners in the past several months, critics say progress is too slow.

"What is particularly frightening is the world is basically saying, 'OK, the situation seems to be easing.' So the ICFTU is saying, no, the situation is not easing, if anything it is getting a lot worse and until something is done it will continue to get worse," said Mr. Lorenz.

The labor confederation's report highlights evidence that forced labor has been used particularly in oil and gas projects involving foreign companies.

Mr. Lorenz says instead of easing sanctions against Burma, the European Union should adopt a tougher stance.

"We would like them to say that companies can not invest in Burma, because any investment in Burma is a strengthening of the junta," said Mr. Lorenz. "And that means that forced labor can continue to go on in the country."

The European Union's assessment on Burma's human rights progress coincides with a visit to the country by the U.N. special human rights envoy.

His visit follows reports of rights abuses against the minority Shan people as well as a Human Rights Watch report accusing Burma's military government of drafting child soldiers. The government denies the charges.

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