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AFP-Myanmar junta blames Western me

Subject: AFP-Myanmar junta blames Western media for forced labour allegations

Myanmar junta blames Western media for forced labour allegations
YANGON, May 14 (AFP) - Myanmar's powerful First Secretary, Lieutenant
General Khin Nyunt, on Friday opened a landmark ASEAN labour ministers
conference with a forthright denial that the regime uses forced labour.
In his opening remarks Khin Nyunt accused the Western media of distorting
events in Myanmar and said the Association of Southeast Asian Nationswas
determined not to be "pressured" by international organisations.

"If one is to believe some of the allegations found in the Western media,
the picture (of Myanmar) will be rather somber indeed," he said.

"We feel very strongly that these allegations were largely the result of
misperception and misunderstanding of the situation and the mentality of the

The conference, the first top-level ASEAN meeting to be held in Myanmar
since it was granted membership in 1997, has been likened to Interpol's
heroin conference here earlier this year in terms of the questionable choice
of venue.

Myanmar is widely condemned by governments and non-government organisations
around the world for human rights abuses and harboring drug lords.

Amnesty International and the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU) were the latest international bodies to accuse Myanmar of
forcing men, women and children to work as slaves for the military, often in
front-line situations.

"ASEAN government ministers are meeting to discuss labor issues in a country
where thousands of people are routinely seized and forced to work against
their will and trade unionists are jailed," Amnesty said Wednesday.

"The time has come for ASEAN to live up to the promise it made when
admitting Myanmar in 1997 to lead efforts for change in that country."

The ICFTU this month demanded ASEAN countries cancel their participation in
the meeting. It estimated 800,000 people were being forced to work
throughout Myanmar.

It submitted findings in a 15-page report supported by more than 900 pages
of evidence to the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO).

An ILO report released last August said people forced to provide labour in
Myanmar "are frequently beaten or otherwise physically abused."

"Some are killed, and women performing compulsary labour are raped or
otherwise sexually abused by soldiers," it said.

Khin Nyunt said outsiders did not understand the Myanmar way of thinking.

Villagers, he said, were happy to donate their labour for the military or to
speed up development projects.

"In Myanmar thinking, contribution of labour not only brings immediate
material benefit in present life, but also merit in future life cycles," he

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.