BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Asia-Pacific
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 13:50 GMT
UN envoy 'satisfied' with Burma trip
test hello test

By Larry Jagan
BBC Burma analyst in Bangkok
The United Nations human rights rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has declared his investigative mission to Burma - his third in less than a year - a success.

"I saw everyone I wanted to and I am satisfied with the government's co-operation," he said.

During his visit he met government ministers, ethnic leaders and members of the opposition, including the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 15 months.

UN sources say the rapporteur has focused on the issues of political prisoners, their conditions in the jails, child soldiers and forced labour during this trip.

Permanent office

A delegation from the International Labour Organisation has just arrived in Rangoon for discussions with the Burmese junta.

The primary purpose of the ILO team is to discuss how the organisation can establish a permanent presence in Rangoon. Ideally, the ILO would like to open an office in Burma with one of its own staff, but they are also canvassing the possibility of an ombudsman for forced labour. This would be a Burmese national.

"This is may not be as bad as it seems," said a Geneva-based human rights activist.

"While they would be subject to immense pressure from the government, they would be very much in the international spotlight and this might give them some protection; and one must remember there are many brave people in Burma."

For the xenophobic generals this may be a more palatable alternative than opening another international office staffed with interfering foreigners.

Forced labour

The ILO team will also be trying to assess what progress the regime has had in the past six months curbing the use of forced labour.

"Forced labour is no longer a problem in urban areas like Rangoon," the opposition spokesman U Lwin told the BBC.

"But there are reports of forced labour in the ethnic areas like Arakan and the Chin hills."

International human rights groups like Forum Asia say forced labour is still used extensively in most border areas where there is a heavy military presence.

The ILO team will also be investigating reports that many witnesses who gave evidence to the experts mission when they were in Burma have been subjected to forced labour themselves or imprisoned. Forum Asia has documented several cases.

Political prisoners

Mr Pinheiro concentrated on the issue of political prisoners, visiting Burma's notorious Insein prison in Rangoon as well as a jail in Kachin state earlier in the week.

At both jails he spoke extensively to opposition NLD prisoners, spending more than nine hours in Insein jail.

Even on his last day in Rangoon Mr Pinheiro visited the top NLD political prisoner, Win Tin - a renowned journalist and writer, who has been in prison for more than 13 years - in hospital where he has been receiving treatment for major medical problems.

"I am trying to demonstrate that the release of political prisoners is a very important gesture," said Mr Pinheiro.

The Burmese military authorities have released 11 political prisoners during the nine days that Mr Pinheiro was in Burma. This is far more than they have been releasing - around 10 a month.

But diplomats and UN officials do not believe this reflects the Burmese Government's commitment to speeding up the release of the remaining political prisoners - of which there are still more than 1,500.

But, as the NLD spokesman told the BBC: "He's doing everything he can, and we hope to see more political prisoners released soon, including Aung San Suu Kyi."

See also:

12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Burma's generals feel the heat
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burma general
28 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Bra company pulls out of Burma
08 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Peace greats urge Suu Kyi release
05 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's slow road to reform
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories