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International Labor Organization to Send High-Level Mission to Burma

The International Labor Organization says it has decided to send a high level mission to Burma to see whether the government remains committed to ending forced labor. The organization says it will take tough measures against the Burmese government if it fails to cooperate in tackling the problem.

The International Labor Organization says it fears Burmese authorities have lost interest in combating forced labor since the recent changes in the make-up of the government.

ILO Liaison Officer, Richard Horsey, says the organization is hoping to send a high level team to Burma to see if the authorities are serious about ending forced labor. He says it does not yet know whether Burma's Military government will allow the mission to go ahead.

But, he warns, the ILO is ready to implement a series of tough measures adopted in 2000 if the government in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, refuse to cooperate.

"In 2000, the International Labor Conference adopted a resolution calling on the membership of the ILO to review their trade and other relations with Myanmar in light of the very serious situation concerning forced labor," said Mr. Horsey. "It is a very unusual step. It is the only time in the history of the ILO that such a step has been taken. And, so what the governing body will be considering in March is whether to return to those measures rather than to continue the process of dialogue and cooperation which has been going on since 2000."

Over the past four years, the Burmese government has been working with the ILO to implement a plan of action to end forced labor. One of the most important steps in that plan was the appointment of an independent facilitator who can receive complaints from victims of forced labor and seek judicial redress.

Mr. Horsey notes certain actions by the government have called this process into question.

"There are three very serious matters," he said. "One is a court case which came to our attention early this year involving three people who were sentenced to death for high treason for having contacts with the ILO. One of these people was sentenced on the basis of having my business card. The ILO took a very strong intervention on this case with a result that the Supreme Court of Myanmar reviewed the case twice and now the sentences have been commuted to two years in prison for two of them and five years for another."

Meanwhile, Burma's military leaders reportedly have begun releasing nearly 4,000 prisoners. The State media announced that the detentions were ruled improper following the dissolution of the National Intelligence Bureau last month.

The U.N.'s Special Investigator on the Human Rights situation in Burma welcomes this move. He says he hopes this large-scale release includes all political prisoners. Amnesty International estimates Burma is holding 1,350 political detainees.