"Political and social progress can only be achieved through development, never through coercive economic measures."

The European Union and the US have recently stepped up sanction against Myanmar's military government over its suppression of pro-democracy groups and its refusal to release political prisoners.

'Unjust sanctions'

"We have been resolutely pursuing a policy of national reconciliation... Peace and stability now prevail in almost all parts of the country"

Nyan Win,
Myanmar foreign minister

In his speech Nyan Win said that in order to fulfil its potential, Myanmar needed "unfettered access" to markets, modern technology and investment.

"The sooner the unjust sanctions are revoked and the barriers removed, the sooner will the country be in a position to become the rice bowl of the region and a reliable source of energy," he added.

In July, George Bush, the US president, renewed an import ban and signed a new law designed to keep gems mined in Myanmar from entering US markets via third-party countries.

In addition the US Treasury imposed financial sanctions on 10 companies owned or controlled by the military government or officials, including companies involved in the gem trade.

For its part earlier this year the EU tightened its own sanctions including an embargo on the import of timber, gems and metals from Myanmar.

The 27-nation bloc also extended the list of Myanmar leaders and their relatives subject to a travel ban and assets freeze.

Reconciliation process

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962 [AFP]
In his UN address, Nyan Win dismissed Western concerns over Myanmar's repression of political dissidents, saying the government's "roadmap to democracy" - which calls for general elections in 2010 - offers the best chance for a return to civilian rule.

"We have been resolutely pursuing a policy of national reconciliation... Peace and stability now prevail in almost all parts of the country," he said.

"All citizens, regardless of political affiliation, will have equal rights to form political parties and to conduct elections campaigns."

But critics and Myanmar's opposition say the roadmap is a sham designed to cement the ruling generals' grip on power.

A military-backed constitution was approved by a national referendum in May this year, but the opposition charges that the vote was unfair.

Under the constitution, the military is guarantied a large bloc of seats in the proposed national parliament while detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi would be barred from standing for office because she was married to a foreigner.

Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in Myanmar's last elections held in 1990, but the military which has ruled the country since 1962 refused to recognise the result.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the lead of the NLD and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been held under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.