Asia Crisis

ILO asks Myanmar to declare forced labour banned

GENEVA, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The International Labour Organisation (ILO) called on Wednesday on the government of Myanmar to declare clearly that all forms of forced labour were banned in the country.

The United Nations agency's Governing Body, which includes representatives of governments, employers' groups and labour unions, also urged Myanmar's military rulers to prevent recruitment of child soldiers.

The Myanmar authorities should "make at the highest level an unambiguous public statement that all forms of forced labour are prohibited throughout the country and will be duly punished," it said in a statement.

The statement reflected concern over the fate in Myanmar, the former Burma, of an accord in February this year allowing the ILO office in Yangon to investigate suspected forced labour.

The ILO and international workers' organisations have long insisted the practice is rife in Myanmar.

The statement said it was still too early to assess the impact on the implementation of the February agreement of the government and army crackdown on recent civil unrest, in which thousands of people are reported to have been detained.

Among these, the statement indicated, were people who had been helping the ILO office with its investigations into forced labour -- which some reports say include the army's compulsory recruitment of young teenagers.

"Full attention should be given to preventing the recruitment of child soldiers," it declared.

The Myanmar government, it said, should ensure that there was "no further detention or harassment of complainants or facilitators" working with investigators and make clear that this applied fully to the military authorities.

Under the February accord, people cooperating in the investigations or acting as "whistleblowers" on forced labour -- in which the ILO says the state is complicit -- were guaranteed they would not face punishment.