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Sun 22 Jun 2008 05:54 PM

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Oman protests US human trafficking claims

Gulf state 'protested in strongest terms' to report claiming it is failing to halt trade.

Oman has formally protested against a US report that says the Gulf Arab state is not doing enough to combat human trafficking, a foreign ministry official said on Sunday.

A US State Department report that tracks forced labour and the sex trade placed Oman, alongside fellow Gulf Arab states Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, in the lowest ranking bracket.

The classification, released this month, means the United States could withhold some aid, said the report, which ranks countries' efforts to combat what it calls "modern day slavery".

"We have already protested in the strongest terms to the US State Department that the human trafficking claim is unfounded," Badr bin Hamed Al-Busaidy, secretary general at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, told newswire Reuters.

"The report is unjustified since the government has worked very hard to make sure no human violation of any kind takes place in the country."

Migrant workers ranging from high-paid Western executives to low-wage manual labourers have formed the backbone of the economies of US-allied Gulf Arab states since the 1970s.

Gulf Arab countries rely heavily on foreign workers as they use windfall oil revenues to develop at a rapid pace.

Foreigners comprise around a quarter of Oman's 2.8 million population. They make up around a third of Saudi Arabia's population, about two-thirds of Kuwait's and over 80 percent in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

In 2006, the UAE passed the Arab world's first law aimed specifically at combating the trade in people, with penalties ranging from five years to life in jail. In January, Bahrain, which has a free trade pact with Washington, issued its own law.

Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council said at their meeting in Jeddah earlier this month that the US report was political.

"The GCC expressed its extreme sorrow over false and incorrect information about the GCC in the 2008 State Department report on human trafficking which aims to exert unjustified pressure for political reasons," they said.

"The GCC called on the State Department to review its unfriendly policies towards countries of the GCC." (Reuters)

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