Junta gives notice it will pull out of the UN's labour body

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 October, 2005, 12:00am

Myanmar's military rulers have told the International Labour Organisation (ILO) they are leaving the UN's labour body.

The government told a secret ILO mission to Myanmar early last week that the country had decided to quit the group, diplomats in Yangon said.

The Myanmese labour minister gave the news to Francis Maupain, special adviser to the ILO's director-general. A letter of notice had been prepared and was waiting to be sent, Mr Maupain was reportedly told.

Myanmar needs to give the group two years' notice to withdraw from it. But the notice period only starts from the moment director-general Juan Somavia receives the letter, according to an ILO spokesman.

The ILO had been hoping to secure a commitment from the regime to eliminate forced labour and to improve the situation of the ILO representative in Yangon.

For months there has been an active public campaign throughout the country to throw the ILO out. The pro-government United Solidarity and Development Association has held mass rallies condemning the ILO and urging the authorities to withdraw Myanmar's membership in it.

In recent months, the ILO representative in Yangon has received scores of lurid death threats, including warnings he will be poisoned and beheaded, according to western diplomats. These threats have ceased, but authorities have not investigated.

Mr Maupain, a French lawyer with long experience in ILO affairs, arrived in Yangon last week with an open mind, according to the group's insiders.

That Myanmar's authorities agreed to the visit was seen as a good sign, since there have been persistent attacks on the labour group this year and its representative has not been allowed to travel out of the capital.

Last week's lower-level mission was intended to clarify the situation before an ILO governing body meeting in Geneva next month.

In March this year, before the last major ILO meeting, ministries were told to prepare papers on the financial and political consequences of withdrawing from the body, Myanmese officials said.

The delay in sending the letter may be because the regime is not anxious to have a showdown with the ILO before the UN rules on a proposal to bring Myanmar before the UN Security Council.

In recent weeks, the junta has been preoccupied with the international campaign to raise the Myanmar issue at the security council, after a report by former Czech president Vaclav Havel and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Yangon has been desperately trying to muster support within Asia to oppose the UN move. But the junta has been told categorically that other Asian nations cannot campaign on Yangon's behalf unless it makes some concessions.

China, Japan and most of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations group will not be happy with Yangon's decision to withdraw from the ILO. They have all been privately advising the junta leaders to work with the labour body.

'In the past China has supported Burma [Myanmar] at the ILO, but in recent times we have told them to collaborate with it,' said a senior Chinese labour official.