Ahern calls for EU sanctions on Burmese government

The EU should impose more sanctions on Burma's military rulers without hurting the ordinary citizens, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern told the UN tonight.

The UN's envoy has left the troubled country after a four-day mission aimed at halting a government crackdown on democracy protests led by Buddhist monks.

Addressing the General Assembly's 62nd session in New York, Mr Ahern called on the military regime to stop violence, release political prisoners and respond to the wishes of the people.

"Within the European Union, Ireland has long taken a strong and principled position on Burma," he said.

"We are looking urgently at how to increase the pressure on the regime, including through further EU restrictive measures, without harming the ordinary people whose suffering is already so great."

Mr Ahern said the military regime had failed in its efforts to conceal its brutality behind a wall of silence.

Much responsibility for the situation rested on the shoulders of China, India and other south-east Asian countries, he explained.

Mr Ahern also held talks today with the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and the Irish Lobby For Emigration Reform.

He will meet with the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the State Department in Washington tomorrow.

In a wide-ranging speech at the UN HQ, Mr Ahern also said that the Irish Government had been briefing the UN on the North's peace process for 40 years, but an extraordinary new chapter in the history of the island of Ireland had now opened.

"Legacies of separation and distrust remain and the inevitable challenges and difficulties of normal politics will need wise and sensitive management," he said.

"But there is an overwhelming consensus that this new beginning can be nurtured and sustained."

The minister also told delegates that his Government was gravely concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur in central Africa.

Up to 350 troops are due to join the UN-mandated mission to Chad and the Central African Republic to protect refugees and aid workers.

"We have made Darfur a priority for our diplomacy and our Irish Aid programme," said Ahern.

"The international community must solve the humanitarian and security crisis while simultaneously establishing the foundations for longer-term peace and development."

Turning to the Middle East, Mr Ahern said Ireland strongly supported the current dialogue between Israel and Palestine to forge a permanent peace.

On the subject of disarmament, he announced that Ireland will host a diplomatic conference in May 2008 which will aim to finalise the first-ever international agreement on cluster munitions.

In the area of overseas development aid, the minister said Ireland will reach reach 0.7% of GNP by 2012.

He added: "It is not acceptable in today's world that there are still 980 million living in abject poverty, that half of the developing world has no access to basic sanitation or that half a million women will die in pregnancy or childbirth each year.

"Perhaps the most damning fact is that one in seven people on this earth today do not get enough food to eat to have a healthy and productive life. That figure jumps to one in four in sub-Saharan Africa."

He reminded delegates that Ireland has established a Hunger Task Force to examine the root causes of food poverty.

Concluding his address, Mr Ahern said: "Ireland will maintain and increase its commitment to the work of the United Nations in the fields of peace and security, development and human rights."

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