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Burma Rejects Presence of Labor Organization - 2001-11-20

The government of Burma has rejected a call by the International Labor Organization to allow it to set up a permanent presence in Burma. The ILO issued the call after sending a team on an unprecedented visit to Burma in order to monitor complaints about forced labor practices.

Burma's foreign ministry has issued a statement saying the government will not allow the ILO to open a permanent office, but it will continue to cooperate with the organization where possible.

The comments come after an ILO fact-finding team issued a report from its unprecedented visit in September to monitor the implementation of new laws banning forced labor.

The Burmese statement calls some of the ILO's conclusions constructive and positive, but adds that other points are difficult to accept.

The report praised the Burmese government for allowing the ILO team unrestricted access to various parts of the country. It concluded that the government has shown a commitment to spreading information about the new laws, but that this has had little effect.

The report says forced labor continues in areas under military control, where the government is battling several insurgencies, and on some farms run by military commanders.

The ILO is also recommending the Burmese government set up an independent agency (ombudsman) to investigate and prosecute cases of forced labor.

International labor and human rights organizations have criticized Burma's military government for failing to punish those who force people to work without pay. Many are pressing international corporations to withdraw business links to Burma.

However some governments in the region say the best way to combat this problem is for the international community to engage the Burmese government, since sanctions have not brought social or political freedoms.