Global Policy Forum

US Senator Poised to Lift Timor Funds Block


By Stephen Romei

The Australian

June 9, 2000

UN officials are hopeful that a powerful Republican senator will call off his single-handed embargo on US funds for East Timor following a meeting with Australia's ambassador in Washington.

Ambassador Michael Thawley stressed the importance of the Australian-backed peacekeeping mission during a 40-minute discussion with Senator Judd Gregg. Mr Thawley, who took up his post in February, said he was "very happy" with the meeting, which took place in Senator Gregg's office on Tuesday. He said he made it clear Australia was "interested in ensuring the UN operation proceeds as smoothly as possible". "I had a long discussion with him ... we had plenty of time to go through the issues," he told The Australian. "I got a very sympathetic hearing about what Australia is doing in East Timor, what the UN is doing and how important it is." Mr Thawley said he expected a response from the New Hampshire senator before the end of next week.

On May 19, Senator Gregg stunned the UN when he announced he would block $US368 million ($622 million) earmarked for peacekeeping missions in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and East Timor. As head of the Senate appropriations sub-committee that governs the State Department budget, he has absolute power to prevent the funds being transferred to the UN.

The funds, already approved by Congress, were to be divided as follows: $US181 million for East Timor, $US96 million for Sierra Leone, $US50 million for Kosovo and $US41million for the Congo.

Like many congressional Republicans, Senator Gregg is dissatisfied with the performance of the UN, notably its peacekeeping system. He was also unhappy with the July 1999 US-backed peace accord in Sierra Leone, which delivered the vice-presidency to rebel leader Foday Sankoh. Senator Gregg's decision earned a rebuke from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and sparked intense diplomatic activity, led by the US ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke.

Australian diplomatic officials have reason to be optimistic that Senator Gregg will release the East Timor funds, as he has already relented on Kosovo and Sierra Leone.

He agreed to release the Sierra Leone funds after Mr Holbrooke assured him that the US administration saw no role for Sankoh in any new peace deal. The rebel leader, who is under arrest, would be "held accountable for his actions", Mr Holbrooke said in a letter to Senator Gregg.

Sankoh is widely considered a war criminal. His rebel forces specialise in hacking the limbs off civilians, particularly children. Senator Gregg said Mr Holbrooke's commitments represented "an important adjustment" in US policy on Sierra Leone. "Now we will recognise him (Sankoh) for what he is - a war criminal - and treat him as such," he said in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday.

Mr Thawley would not comment on any specific concerns Senator Gregg raised about the East Timor mission. The senator did not return calls from The Australian.

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