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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 22:01 GMT 23:01 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Burma slammed over forced labour

Burma has been barred from the International Labour Organisation for its pervasive use of forced labour.

In an unprecedented move, the ILO overwhelmingly approved a resolution which denounced the government for inflicting "a contemporary form of slavery".

The BBC's Claire Doole: "The resolution marks Burma's increased isolation."
Burma reacted angrily, accusing the organisation of deplorable interference in its internal affairs.

The bar will prevent Burma from receiving ILO aid or attending meetings of the 174 nation body.

The organisation estimates that more than 800,000 Burmese are conscripted by the military government to work with little or no pay as army porters or as labourers.

The resolution, passed at the ILO's annual conference in Geneva, is the strongest it can impose. Observers called it a ''de facto expulsion''.

Delegates slammed the country for ignoring recommendations to bring its statutes into line with ILO conventions. And they said there was "no credible evidence" that those responsible for forced labour were being punished.

The resolution said the government's attitude and behaviour were ''grossly incompatible'' with the principles governing membership of the ILO which promotes social justice and workers' rights.

'Unscrupulous action'

But Burma's foreign ministry said in a statement that the country had already brought local laws in line with the ILO's Forced Labour Convention and Convention on the Freedom of Association.

"Deliberately turning a blind eye to these positive developments, a number of Western nations...pushed through the resolution accusing Myanmar (Burma) of widespread use of forced labour," it added.

"Myanmar finds it impossible to accept such deplorable and unscrupulous action...Myanmar has therefore dissociated herself from this unfair and biased resolution."

Burma said it would cease participation in activities connected with the two disputed ILO conventions, but would continue to comply with other conventions to which it was party.

It also threatened to retaliate by dissuading those nations who had not yet signed the ILO core conventions from signing them.

In a speech to the conference on Wednesday, US President Bill Clinton singled out Burma for flagrant violations of workers' rights.

Some Asian countries, including China, voted against the resolution, arguing that Burma needed more time to phase out the use of forced labour.

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