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ILO's Checks Burma Commitment to Halt Forced Labor - 2001-09-17


A high-level delegation from the International Labor Organization (ILO) has arrived in Burma to assess whether the military government is making good on a pledge to eradicate forced labor. Burmese officials say they will not interfere with the delegation's work.

The team of four jurists from Asia and eastern Europe arrived Monday in Rangoon and began a series of meetings with Burmese officials.

ILO officials say during the three-week trip, they are to determine whether measures announced by the Burmese government have been effective in eliminating the practice of forced labor in the country.

Burma's deputy labor minister, Brigadier-General Win Sein, told the Myanmar Times newspaper the team will have freedom of movement and will not be accompanied by Burmese officials, except to provide security. The official said the team will be able to establish its own program of contacts across the country.

The unprecedented visit follows months of negotiations. The ILO, at its annual session last November, called on members to impose sanctions against the Burmese government because of the practice.

In response, the Burmese government has passed laws outlawing forced labor and says it has spread information about the laws across the country.

However, human rights organizations say though the practice is declining, it still exists. They say villagers, primarily in remote rural areas, have been forced to work on roads, ports and public buildings. And they say military commanders continue to use unpaid villagers as porters to carry military supplies in remote border regions where they are battling rebel groups and drug traffickers.

The team is lead by a former governor-general and chief justice of Australia, Ninian Stephen. It includes a former chief justice of Sri Lanka, a former secretary of labor of the Philippines, and a European Human Rights Court judge from Poland.

The team is to present its findings to the next annual session of the ILO in November.