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UN Human Rights Envoy Satisfied with Burma's Cooperation

A U.N. human-rights envoy has wrapped up a 10-day fact-finding trip to Burma, saying he is satisfied with cooperation from the country's military government. The International Labor Organization is beginning talks with Burmese officials on allegations of widespread forced labor.

Special U.N. envoy Paulo Pinheiro said he received full cooperation from Burma's military leaders during an official visit to investigate the country's human rights situation.

U.N. Human Rights Commission Spokesman, Jose Diaz, says the special U.N. envoy met members of the Burmese opposition, including Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

"In Yangong, he visited the Insein Central Prison and prison hospital also in Yangon where he interviewed in a confidential manner about a dozen detainees. He was also able to go to Kachin State, Myitkyina is the name of the locality where he also visited a police lock-up, and Myitkyina prison where he also interviewed, confidentially, about a dozen detainees," Mr. Diaz said.

The military released 11 political prisoners during the U.N. envoy's stay. Mr. Pinheiro will report his findings to Human Rights Commission in early April.

The United States and the European Union keep an aid and trade embargo on Burma, but say that could change if progress is made in talks between military leaders and the opposition. The human rights group, Amnesty International, said 1,500 political prisoners are jailed in Burma.

Meanwhile, the International Labor Organization, has begun its own discussions with Burmese authorities on allegations of forced labor in the country, particularly in areas where there is a large military presence.

Spokesman John Doohan has said the four-member team is looking for the government's response to its request last November to establish an ILO presence in Burma to investigate charges of forced labor.

The ILO wants a legal body established to guarantee the rights and safety of people said to be subjected to forced labor. Mr. Doohan says the team also wants to check the progress of investigations made into murders of people who have complained about the labor situation in the country.

"The situation is very, very difficult. These problems are deeply rooted," he said. "The legislative and social revision that has to be undertaken is considerable and so there is no underestimating the size of the task and the political difficulty of the task. The government's responsibility is to live up to its obligations under an ILO convention that prohibits forced labor."

Mr. Doohan has said the governing body of the ILO will carefully scrutinize Burma's response. The ILO said it wants to see the practice of forced labor completely eliminated in Burma.