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Thursday, August 20, 1998 Published at 00:42 GMT 01:42 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

ILO attacks Burma forced labour

The International Labour Organisation has condemned the Burmese military government for its "systematic and widespread" use of forced labour.

It says the authorities in Rangoon treat the civilian population as an unlimited pool of unpaid labourers and servants.

[ image:  ]
The ILO says the political system in Burma, or Myanmar, is based on force and intimidation and the Burmese people are denied democracy and the rule of law.

A commission of enquiry set up by the Geneva-based organisation accuses soldiers of raping or sexually assaulting women in their charge and says other civilians are frequently beaten.

The commission found human rights, especially in the workplace, had got worse since the military-backed State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) took over in 1988.

More than 250 people testified to the ILO investigators and gave evidence about the pervasive use of compulsory labour imposed by government officials and the military.

'Unwilling workers often murdered'

Large sections of the population are forced to service military camps, maintain the roads and railways and farm the land for little or no pay, according to the report.

Those who are unwilling or unfit are beaten, tortured or murdered, it says.

Women, children and the elderly are allegedly used as porters and are even sent ahead to check out minefields.

The report says non-Burmese ethnic groups such as the Muslim minority, the Rohingyas, who live in the north-western province of Arakan, bear the brunt of much of the forced labour.

[ image: Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi: silenced]
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi: silenced
The Rangoon regime, which refused access to the inquiry team, said the complaints were based on biased and unfounded allegations by those wishing to denigrate the government.

The ILO's allegations will boost supporters of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has long campaigned against the illegitimacy of a regime she says is corrupt.

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