LETTERS: Unforced labour

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Sir: Your article "In bondage on the road to Mandalay" (19 January), allegedly on my government's use of slave labour to prepare for this tourism year, misrepresents the true situation. Allegations that hundreds and thousands of people are forced into unpaid work and fed only by a midday meal of rice are utterly false.

Public participation in the construction projects for regional development is a noble endeavour in Myanmar [Burma]. It is true that to implement major projects, financial resources of the state, technical skills and machinery, coupled with mass participation, are made use of. Labour is contributed by people in the area, including even prisoners.

Prisoners contribute labour willingly as they are paid certain wages, their sentences reduced, and enjoy family visits. Instead of being a burden to the state, this enables them to make a constructive contribution to nation building. It has always been atradition and national belief that participation in the buildings of roads, bridges, shelter for the homeless, monasteries and pagodas are very noble deeds and give physical and mental well-being.

Public involvement in regional development projects is termed as forced labour by people who are not accustomed to cultural traditions and values of Myanmar.

Yours faithfully, Aung Bwa Counsellor, Embassy of the Union of Myanmar London, W1