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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
Burmese forced labour condemned

The Burmese Government said the West was interfering
By Clare Doole in Geneva

Burma's widespread use of forced labour has come under unprecedented criticism from the United Nations.

More than 80,000 people in Burma are press-ganged into work by the military authorities, according to estimates by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which is part of the UN.

The organisation has lost patience with Burma. For several years it has called on Rangoon to stop violating workers' rights, but without success.

The ILO's governing body on Tuesday called for all necessary action against Burma.

US and European Union representatives said Rangoon had wilfully ignored and shown its utter contempt for human rights standards.

Most of the Burmese, they said, were exploited by the military authorities, who conscripted hundreds of thousands of them to work with little or no pay as porters or building labourers.

Burma's spokesman said the allegations were unfounded and deplored Western interference in its internal affairs.

International pressure

It is now up to the ILO annual conference in June to decide what measures to take.

These could include recommendations to governments, unions, employers' associations and international organisations to review their relations with Burma.

If agreed, this would increase Burma's international isolation.

The ILO feels it has already done as much as it can to persuade Rangoon to comply with its rules. It has barred Burma from all its activities and stopped financial aid.

This latest move amounts to a final attempt to put international pressure on the country to come into line with global labour standards.

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27 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burmese military warns opponents
20 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma clamps down on web
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