In previous statements and in responses to Parliamentary Questions, I have made clear my own, and the Government's very deep concern about the situation in Burma. Following the horrific events that occurred in that country in September, I undertook a number of initiatives to highlight the extent of the repression taking place and the importance of the mission of the UN and the Secretary General's Special Envoy, Dr Ibrahim Gambari. These included direct bilateral approaches to leaders of neighbouring countries of Burma, seeking their support to end the bloodshed and encourage the initiation of dialogue; pressing for, and securing, European Council Conclusions on the issue and political agreement to step up sanctions against the Burmese regime; a meeting with Burma's ‘Prime Minister in exile, who is also a first cousin of Aung Sang Suu Kyi; and support for the work of Burma Action Ireland.
More than four months have passed since the crackdown against monks and peaceful protestors took place and I remain deeply concerned by the situation in Burma, and the lack of progress in creating a meaningful political dialogue process. I have noted with disappointment the comments by Aung San Suu Kyi on 29 January that the talks she has had with the government's liaison minister have offered very little of substance, but are intended rather to give the appearance of serious negotiations. Ms Suu Kyi has also made clear her concerns that the dialogue process does not include representatives of the various ethnic minorities and that there is no fixed deadline for an outcome.
It is only through an inclusive and time-bound process that a sustainable and peaceful future for Burma will be achieved. It is imperative that the regime now engage meaningfully in dialogue that produces substantive results. The international community must take more concrete steps to seek to encourage this. The dialogue process cannot be replaced by the work of the government's Constitutional Drafting Committee, from which the opposition has been excluded, and which is expected to produce a draft in the near future.
The Burmese government continues to arrest political opponents and to prosecute those involved in organising the protests last year. I am deeply concerned by the decision to charge U Gambira, the leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance who is currently being held in Insein prison, for his role in the protests in September last year.
I am also deeply concerned by and condemn the Burmese government's decision to charge Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi and eight other activists who were organisers from the major student protests in Burma in 1988, and who have been detained without charge since August 2007, for their involvement in last year's demonstrations over commodity prices.
I deeply regret the fact that the Burmese government has refused to facilitate an early further visit by the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Burma/Myanmar, Dr Ibrahim Gambari. He should be able to visit whenever he wishes, and without conditions.
Dr Gambari was in India last week, and will travel to China later this month, to explore how they can further support the Secretary-General's good offices mission. Both Dr Gambari and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have stressed the importance of tangible action by the Burmese regime, and have rightly made clear that the patience of the international community is running out. Dr Gambari briefed the UN Security Council prior to his departure for India, following which the Council expressed its regret at the slow rate of progress towards the objectives it set out last October.
Dr Gambari met with EU High Representative Javier Solana in Brussels on 25 January, as well as with senior Commission officials. These talks included discussion of contacts with countries in the region, the Commission's funding for Gambari's Office and other aspects of its activities in relation to Burma, including humanitarian assistance, and the development of civil society and the media. EU Special Envoy for Burma/Myanmar Piero Fassino has also recently visited countries in the region, calling on governments to unite in putting pressure on Burma.
It is expected that EU Foreign Ministers will again review the situation in Burma at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 18 February, ahead of the renewal of the EU's restrictive measures on Burma in April. The EU continues to look at the possibility of further measures should the Burmese régime continue blatantly to ignore the will of the international community.
Ireland, with our EU partners, will also continue to push for the Burmese régime to cooperate fully with the UN Special Rapporteur on Burma/Myanmar, Sergio Pinheiro, in implementing the recommendations in his report presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 11 December, and in line with the Council's resolution asking Special Rapporteur Pinheiro to undertake a follow-up mission to examine in greater detail the human rights violations occurring in Burma.