New York (dpa) - Conflict between developing countries and the United States over United Nations reform burst into the open Friday, with Malaysia accusing the UN Security Council of usurping power.
Malaysia timed the attack to coincide with a month when the US is chairing the 15-nation council, the top UN decision-making body where the US and four other powers have vetoes.
At the same time, the US House of Representatives' foreign relations committee accused a large UN economic group known as G-77, which includes China, of blocking efforts by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "to clean up the institution."
Malaysian UN Ambassador Hamidon Ali charged that the Security Council has encroached on the power of the General Assembly, where all UN member countries have one vote.
With US Ambassador John Bolton setting the agenda this month, the council has scheduled open meetings for the rest of February on corruption in UN procurement for peacekeeping operations and sexual exploitation and abuses committed by peacekeepers.
Malaysia said the council is responsible for peacekeeping operations, but procurement and sexual exploitation are issues that should be discussed by the assembly.
But Bolton rejected the complaint. "The Security Council is acting, and other bodies can act as well," he said.
Malaysia represents more than 120 countries in the non-aligned movement. Its attack and US lawmakers' broadside against the G-77 - which actually groups some 130 mostly developing countries - prompted General Assembly president Jan Eliasson of Sweden to hold talks to defuse tensions.
Malaysia's complaints came in a letter to Eliasson.
Developing countries have resisted efforts to strengthen UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's authority to manage the 60-year-old organization, preferring to keep the role for themselves.
The US and other Western nations want faster reform and a more powerful secretary general who can hire and fire employees, and set up programmes, without General Assembly approval.
Many developing countries also oppose a proposed UN Human Rights Council for which Washington has insisted on tough criteria. Talks to set up the council are underway and sticking points include criteria for the selection of the projected 45 members.
US Congressman Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the committee on foreign relations, and Tom Lantos, a Democrat, sent a scathing letter to the G-77 chairman, South African UN Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, holding that group responsible for actions slowing down UN reform.
The warning jarred countries in the group, which has sought to curb Annan's power as well as US leadership in reform discussions.
US officials insisted, however, that they have the right to clean up the UN and institute new ways to manage the organization because Washington pays 22 per cent of the UN budget - the largest among the 191 UN members - and wants its taxpayer money to be well spent.
The annual UN administrative budget is slightly over 1 billion dollars while its peacekeeping budget stands at about 2 billion dollars, of which the US pays 25 per cent.
Pressure for reforming the world body grew after revelations of mismanagement and corruption in the UN-managed oil-for-food programme for Iraq from 1996 to 2003. A Russian employee was arrested last year for pocketing 1.3 million dollars from contractors.
UN peacekeepers have been found sexually exploiting refugees under their care in the Democratic Republic of Congo and some other countries.