Ban proposes bigger UN budget to meet challenges

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 (Reuters) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed on Thursday a rise in the UN budget for the next two years, seeking extra funding to head off conflicts and promote human rights amid new demands on the world body.

Ban told the UN General Assembly's budget committee he wanted 4.2 billion dollar for 2008-09, which he said represented real growth of just half a percentage point, or 23 million dollars, over the previous period covering the past two years.

''That is not much, considering the demands upon us,'' he said. ''Never has the world so needed a strong United Nations.

Yet never have our resources been stretched so thin.'' Ban listed ''difficult diplomatic and security challenges'' in Sudan, Lebanon, Somalia, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as longer-term tasks of combating poverty, climate change and HIV/AIDS and defending human rights.

The figure Ban cited covers the UN regular administrative budget but excludes peacekeeping operations, which are assessed separately and cost billions of dollars a year.

Ban said it was time to shift the focus to conflict prevention and peace-building, especially in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. ''Strengthening the UN's capacity to step in -- to resolve conflicts earlier rather than later -- is among the smartest investments we can make,'' he said.

He proposed an allocation of million to beef up the Department of Political Affairs for that purpose.

The move ''is going to be oriented towards building more regional capacity, basically in central Asia, central Africa, and to be better equipped to work on mediation, conflict prevention, conflict resolution,'' Under Secretary-General for Management Alicia Barcena told a news conference.

UN Controller Warren Sach told the news conference the aim was to create some 90 new posts.

HUMAN RIGHTS Ban also said his budget reflected a desire by member states to double resources earmarked for human rights. He mentioned no figures.

Responding to past criticism, he proposed to streamline the UN bureaucracy to be ''faster, more flexible and more modern'' and to strengthen internal oversight, following a series of disputes over disciplinary procedures and whistle-blowing.

The UN budget is a controversial issue that typically leads to negotiations with major contributors like the United States and the European Union. Two years ago, Washington demanded U.N. reforms before the final figure was agreed.

US officials declined immediate comment on Thursday on Ban's proposal. ''We're looking at it,'' UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters.

But the 27-nation European Union, collectively the biggest contributor to the budget, said the figure left out several proposals that would be presented separately later, and that the final amount could be close to 4.8 billion dollars.

''This, the European Union must clearly state, is a very substantial increase that cannot be simply underwritten in its entirety,'' Portuguese Ambassador Joao Salgueiro, representing the EU, told the budget committee.

''We expect the UN to exercise the same budgetary discipline that its member states are required to.'' Reuters SZ VP0430

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