US Asks UN for Trims in Force for East Timor
By Joe Lauria, Globe Correspondent, 10/08/99
UNITED NATIONS - Faced with a Congress reluctant to help fund new UN truce missions, the Clinton administration asked the United Nations yesterday to reduce the size of its proposed East Timor expedition force.
The cost of the East Timor operation is expected to exceed $1 billion, at a time when the UN is struggling to fund its civil administration in Kosovo following the NATO bombing campaign this year. The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, had asked the General Assembly for an initial $200 million for Kosovo operations, but the General Assembly approved only $125 million. Of that, only $35 million has been raised, and officials say the eventual cost could reach $500 million for the first year.
''No one would have thought that, in the past year alone, the United Nations would undertake new operations in Kosovo and East Timor and be on the verge of new missions in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,'' Annan said before the UN budget committee this week. ''The UN must be prepared. Ad hoc solutions will not do.''
Such solutions have been made necessary largely because the UN's richest member, the United States, has refused to pay its peacekeeping and regular budget dues.
The United States must pay the UN $550 million by the end of the year to avoid losing its vote in the General Assembly, Joseph Connor, the UN's undersecretary-general for management, said this week. So far, Congress has authorized only $200 million toward the $1.7 billion in back dues that Washington owes.
''We are running a globally important organization without the predictable, assured financial support of its members,'' Connor said.
New missions in the next 12 months could cost as much as $800 million, he added. UN members have been $2.15 billion behind in peacekeeping dues since December 1996.
Annan has not submitted a budget for East Timor, but the mission will be more expensive than Kosovo because the UN will be running both a civilian administration and a peacekeeping mission. NATO countries currently pay for peacekeeping in Kosovo. UN officials say estimates for East Timor range from $1 billion to $1.7 billion.
The United States is assessed by the UN for 31 percent of that cost, though Congress has passed legislation cutting Washington's share of the UN peacekeeping budget to 25 percent from 31 percent.
''The United Nations needs to reduce its over-reliance on a single member,'' US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told the budget committee. ''A scale of assessments that is fair is not something the UN can just hope to do. It is what the UN must do.''
To cut costs in East Timor, US representatives want the operation proposed by Annan to be reduced from 8,950 troops to 8,000, which could save hundreds of millions of dollars over the three years that the mission is expected to last.
''The UN told the Americans it is in the hands of the Security Council and they should work it out there,'' said a UN source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The proposal to cut the size of the force angered Antonio Monteiro, Portugal's ambassador to the UN. Portugal was East Timor's colonial ruler until 1975. ''I'm fed up with being told we should do this or that,'' Monteiro said in an interview with a Portuguese newspaper yesterday. ''The secretary general says this is what we need, so let's stick to that.''
Monteiro added: ''We have to start out with what the secretary general considers the minimum necessary to rebuild the country, that's what I told Ambassador Holbrooke. I know it may be problematic with Congress, but we'll have no difficulty finding the money if commitments are kept.''
Portugal has offered 1,000 troops for the operation, whom it says it will pay for, but the UN may be reluctant to allow the former colonial rulers back in the territory.
The Security Council yesterday began discussing a draft resolution that would establish the UN-run East Timor civil administration and the long-term peacekeeping force that would replace the Australian-led multinational force now restoring order to the troubled territory.
UN officials hope the Australians will leave some of their equipment behind to help reduce the cost.
Peacekeeping officials here say the lack of money could delay deployment of the force well beyond November, when the Indonesian assembly is expected to ratify the East Timorese vote for independence and formally hand over the territory to the UN. A February date appears more likely, officials said.
Deployment of the force may also be held up by the issue of who should command the peacekeeping force and the civilian administration to be installed in East Timor.
Sources say some of Annan's aides are pressing him to appease Indonesia, fearful that other parts of its far-flung archipelago might break away, by appointing two Asians to the top positions, possibly from Malaysia and Thailand.
This has angered the Portuguese and the East Timorese pro-independence leaders. ''We can't just take into account Asian sensibilities,'' said Monteiro. ''I keep hearing from the UN and from some member states that East Timor is going better now, so let's help Indonesia. But East Timor still needs priority attention.''
East Timor independence leaders Xanana Gusmao and Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said in London this week they want Portugal to have a leading role in East Timor and even suggested adopting the Portuguese currency.
Monteiro said he has told Annan that the East Timorese leaders do not want Asians in the top jobs, fearing they could be controlled by Jakarta.