ILO extends forced labour 'understanding'

Jan 20, 2010 (DVB), The International Labour Organisation has agreed the extension of a 'supplementary understanding' with the Burmese government regarding illegal use of forced labour in the country.

The organisation's deputy head, Kari Tapiola, arrived in Burma last week to secure the extension of the agreement that looks to ensure victims of forced labour are free to lodge complaints without recrimination from the military government.

Tapiola is today led a delegation to the remote capital of Naypyidaw, in central Burma, where he met with government officials. Before leaving Geneva, he had also signaled a desire to visit the town of Aunglan, where 17 farmers were imprisoned following a land dispute with the junta.

Steve Marshall, the ILO's liaison officer in Rangoon, said that the delegation would arrive in Aunglan on Thursday.

"But the critical factor is that the programme [supplementary understanding] which has been discussed and agreed with the government of Myanmar [Burma] will be proceeding and we look forward to continuing this on a constructive basis," he said.

The delegation is scheduled to stay in Burma for one week. Local legal advocacy groups, such as the Bago-based Guiding Star, led by lawyer Aye Myint, and families of jailed May Day activists, were invited to meet with the delegation at the ILO liaison office in Rangoon on 22 and 23 January.

Aye Myint said that he would urge the ILO to set up regional advocacy groups to accept complaints, as opposed to one Rangoon office "where even an ordinary urban resident wouldn't dare to enter".

The ILO has struggled since the first supplementary understanding was signed in February 2007 to curb the use of forced labour, which includes land disputes and recruitment of child soldiers, by the Burmese government.

It has also expressed "serious concern" about the jailing of labour activists and forced labour complainants.

A family member of one of the imprisoned Aunglan farmers said he will request that Tapiola secure the release of their relative.

"I heard the supplementary understanding is due to be extended and I have nothing to say about that. But if the [ILO]cannot even meet with people who filed complaints to them, then the supplementary understanding will not mean anything to us," he said.

The delegation is also due to meet with the six May Day activists who were given lengthy prison sentences following their arrest in 2007, after they had attended a celebration at the US embassy's American Centre in Rangoon.

The group was charged with defamation of the government, unlawful association and for illegally crossing the border. Some were given life sentences.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

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