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Burma Appeals for ILO to Withdraw Sanctions Threat - 2002-03-23


The military government in Burma is calling on the International Labor Organization (ILO) to withdraw a threat to impose sanctions because the practice of forced labor has not yet been eliminated in the country. Burmese representatives made the appeal during a debate in the executive council of the ILO in Geneva.

During the debate, details of which emerged on Friday, Burma's representative referred to an agreement reached with the ILO this past week clearing the way for appointment of a liaison officer to help with efforts to eliminated forced labor.

Describing this as a "landmark agreement, he said the military government in Rangoon is "fully committed" to eliminating forced labor. And he went on to ask the ILO governing body to consider withdrawing the threat of sanctions against Burma.

Two years ago, the ILO called on its 174 member countries, worker and employer organizations and U.N. agencies to review all relations with Burma's government to make sure they were not supporting forced labor. This was the first time in the ILO's history that a member was threatened with sanctions.

The next scheduled discussion of the situation in Burma takes place in June at the International Labor Conference in Geneva. Observers say the decision by the Rangoon military government to allow a U.N. labor official to be based in Burma was, in part, an effort to head off sharp criticism at that conference.

According to details of this past week's debate, the request to the ILO to consider withdrawing the threat of sanctions was formally submitted by Malaysia on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member.

Malaysia has been a key player in efforts to bring about a settlement of in the long-running political dispute between the ruling military and the democratic opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Malaysian diplomat, Razali Ismail, was appointed two years ago as U.N. special envoy for Burma, and is credited with getting reconciliation talks started. His seventh visit to Rangoon was to have taken place this past week, but was postponed by Burmese authorities and is being rescheduled for next month.

If the ILO eventually decides to withdraw its sanctions threat against Burma, the earliest this could happen would be June 2003. However, despite the agreement to appoint an ILO liaison officer, critics such as the United States used the ILO debate to voice concerns about continuing forced labor.

Francis Maupain, who led several ILO delegations to Burma, said the ILO expects the person appointed as liaison in Rangoon to have wide flexibility in carrying out their duties, including complete freedom of movement. This is a first step, said Mr. Maupain, toward a future expanded ILO presence.