EU appoints envoy to Middle East and another to Zaire


THE European Union last night agreed to appoint a senior Spanish diplomat as its special representative in the Middle East, in a bid to raise the European profile the peace process.

In the face of the escalating crisis in Zaire, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg also issued a declaration, calling for a immediate convening of a meeting of heads of government of the Great Lakes region. These countries include Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

They also dispatched their special representative, Mr Aldo Ajello, back to the region. He will be accompanied by an expert on humanitarian aid who will assess what emergency aid the Union could best contribute.

The Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Spring, described the situation on the ground in Zaire as "disastrous" with half a million people currently on the move and a total of one million displaced people in the Great Lakes region.

And ministers restored a common front against the US on measures to counter the Helms Burton Act. The US legislation allows for the seizure of assets of international companies trading in the US which also do business in Cuba.

Last night an agreement was reached on EU legislation which will allow EU companies to reclaim the value of seized assets from the European branches of US companies which have taken action against them in the US.

Denmark had raised objections to the legal base of the legislation, Article 35 of the Maastricht Treaty, arguing that the clause did not give the Union such broad powers.

By restricting the legislation very specifically to the Helms Burton case the Danes were satisfied.

Speaking later the Trade Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, welcomed the agreement. He said that it would make it easier for the US administration to solve the problem once the presidential elections were over.

"It will make it clear," he said, "that the Helms Burton legislation is substantially weakened by the EU legislation. The purposes behind it are incapable of being achieved."

Mr Miguel Moratinos, the new EU special representative to the Middle East, is currently the Spanish ambassador to Israel and director of Spain's Institute for Co operation with Africa and the Middle East. He played a prominent role in the Madrid peace talks.

The Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Spring, said Mr Moratinos had been given "a broad and comprehensive mandate" to observe the peace process, establish relations with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and to report on possible EU actions.

Asked whether the EU could play a role when the US appeared unable to get the parties to reach agreement, Mr Spring said the representative's mandate complemented the role played by the US in the process.

Mr Spring will be returning to the region at the head of a Troika mission within 10 days. Ministers confirmed that such a visit, ahead of the Cairo economic summit on November 12th, will involve a visit by Mr Spring to Orient House, the East Jerusalem headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

His visit there last June provoked enormous controversy in Israel and is likely to particularly anger the new Israeli government of Mr Benjamin Netanyahu.

The European Union also imposed strict limits on contacts with Burmese officials and their families in response to what Mr Spring described as the "very serious situation in Burma with regard to human rights". Ministers agreed on the move, which is part of a gradual build up of pressure on Rangoon's military government, without debate.