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UN Envoy Welcomes Burma's Decision to Back Off Threat to Quit ILO

Burma has told the U.N. International Labor Organization it will not quit the body and instead continue cooperation to end forced labor and other rights violations in the country.

The U.N Special Envoy on Human Rights in Burma, Paulo Pinheiro, says he welcomes the news that the military government in Rangoon wants to continue working with the International Labor Organization.

Mr. Pinheiro spoke to reporters in Bangkok about the decision from Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"I think this is a very positive step," he said. "It is very important for the United Nations to continue to work finding ways to end forced labor and other violations in terms of the ILO conventions and I have to acknowledge that this was a sound gesture and initiative by the Myanmar government.

Last month, Burma had threatened to quit the ILO accusing the U.N. body of interfering in its internal affairs.

The ILO and human rights groups have been deeply critical of Burma's use of forced labor. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has put the number of people forced to work on government and military projects at up to 800,000. Much of it is in rural and border areas.

Burma has allowed the ILO to keep an office in Rangoon, but severely restricts it activities. The ILO office said its staff received 21 death threats in just August and September.

Mr. Pinheiro was appointed as special human rights envoy in 2000, but the military government has refused his requests to visit Burma in the last few years.

Despite this, Mr. Pinheiro says Burma's attempts at political transition must be supported.

The government is set to resume the next round of talks on a new constitution in December - in what is the first step in Burma's plan to transition to democracy. Critics say the process is too tightly controlled and sets no timetable.

But the U.N. envoy says no country has ever gone through an easy transition to democracy.

Burma has been ruled by the military for more than 40 years. It held an election in 1990. But the results were annulled after the democratic opposition won by a landslide.