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Robinson seeks to redefine UN role

Mary Robinson, the Irish President, last night staunchly defended the record of the United Nations and appealed for a new commitment to its ideals by the world's governments. Her speech had the ring of a platform to launch her candidacy to become the organisation's next Secretary-General.

Mrs Robinson, who was speaking at a foreign affairs forum in New York, called for the development of a new "global ethic" or the "idea of community at the global level". That meant, she said: "improving, strengthening and developing the pre-eminent multilateral organisation - the United Nations."

Her comments, which also included an appeal for increased aid to the developing world, seemed calculated to advertise herself as a possible successor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose first five-year term as UN Secretary- General expires at the end of this year.

Decrying the current financial crisis that faces the UN and berating countries for allowing their support to it to wane, Mrs Robinson peppered her speech with criticisms that seemed aimed in particular at the United States. She begins a state visit to the US today.

Achieving the "global ethic", she said, would mean, in particular,new efforts to help poorer nations gain prosperity through increased aid, "amounting perhaps to a mutual contractual relationship between donor and recipient rather than a relationship of dependency".

She was especially scathing of the inattention of governments to Africa. "Decision-makers in the developed world looking at the chaos and horror of a Liberia, a Somalia or a Rwanda, too often see only the 'heart of darkness' and think only how their own citizens can be safely evacuated.

"It is not acceptable for countries of the West, after centuries of interference and intrusion, to limit their involvement now to rapid armed intervention into situations of chaos to rescue their own nationals".