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International labour experts warned on Sunday that Burma’s military is still resorting to forced labour despite signs of progress with civilian local authorities.
An International Labour Organisation (ILO) committee backed calls for the release of six people who have been imprisoned for up to 18 months after they sought the help of the agency’s office in the country, and renewed criticism of Burma’s military, ILO officials said.
“There is an indication that the use of forced labour systematically by civilian authorities in some areas is reducing,” Steve Marshall, liaison officer for the UN labour agency in Burma, told AFP.
“The other side is there is no evidence of any change in attitude to the use of forced labour by the military,” he added.
The 183-nation ILO’s committee on standards has assessed Burma’s record with forced labour annually since an inquiry concluded that the practice was widespread and systematic there. It met on Saturday and its conclusions are due to be published today.
In 2007, Burma’s military junta bowed to pressure from the UN labour agency and allowed an official based in the capital, Rangoon, to deal with complaints from victims.
Marshall, who took part in the meeting in Geneva, indicated that the committee upheld his assessments and reiterated calls for changes to parts of Burma’s constitution and laws that could condone forced labour.
It also noted that official efforts in the country to raise awareness to help prevent the practice were gaining pace.
“There has been a lot of awareness raising and education, and a lot of seminars. Credit was given that that is new,” Marshall said.
“However, the committee feels that there’s a lot more work to be done in the area, particularly because you’re in an environment where there’s military rule.”
Marshall found a pattern of forced labour caused by a lack of proper funding for projects demanded from rural authorities. But the bulk of the problem, he cautioned, involved adults and youngsters pressed into working for the army.