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Mar 10, 2008 (DVB), A team of government officials who went to Taunggok to investigate complaints of forced labour have made local residents sign statements on whether they were pressured into complaining.
A team led by senior officials from the Ministry of Labour arrived in Taunggok on 5 March to conduct an investigation into complaints of forced labour reported to the International Labour Organisation by local residents.
About 70 people filed a complaint in January claiming that Chaung Kout Peace and Development Council officials had been forcing local residents to take up night guard duties and had collected over 100,000 kyat in forced payments.
The team was made up of about 10 senior officials including labour ministry director U Chit Sein, the Sandoway district judge and the Sandoway district administration director.
To begin with, the team conducted formal interviews with those who had complained, but later in the day, U Chit Sein called people in for private interviews and made them sign statements saying whether they had filed the complaint of their own free will or had been persuaded to make the complaint by other people.
Chit Sein also made people who had not been involved in the original complaint sign these statements, including elderly people with poor eyesight and people who are unable to read or write.
Taunggok township NLD deputy chairman U Than Pe, who was responsible for filing the complaint and acted as a liaison between the complainants and the ILO, said he was also interviewed and made to sign a statement.
"At first, they interviewed about 30 people, and they promised they would conduct interviews formally in front of all the officials," Than Pe said.
"But in the evening their method changed, and they were calling people in one by one and making them sign, even people who were not involved in filing the complaint letter."
Than Pe said he had complained about the way the investigation was being conducted.
"I complained to the labour ministry director about the procedures being used, and he told me it was none of my business," he said.
"But I told them the way they are going about this is very misleading, because people don't understand the legal procedures, and they need to explain to people first what they are going to do."
The governing body of the ILO is due to meet from 6 to 20 March, and is expected to discuss action against forced labour in Burma following a recent ILO mission.
Reporting by Aye Nai