Blue beret refusenik embraced by the right

A 22-YEAR-OLD US army medic from Texas who faces a court martial for refusing to wear United Nations insignia has become a cause celebre for the American right. Michael New's assertion that he owes allegiance to the US, not the UN, has made him a hot property on right-wing radio talk shows.

Earlier this month New, on duty in Germany after two-and-a-half years service, refused to don a UN beret and badge with a unit scheduled for peace-keeping duty in Macedonia. He said it would breach his oath to the US Constitution. American conservatives who see the UN as virtually a hostile power have rapidly embraced him.

More than 40 Republican Congressmen this month signed a letter to President Bill Clinton calling him "a courageous and loyal young American soldier" who had raised important constitutional questions.

In Pasco County, Florida, on the fiftieth anniversary of the UN, about 40 people doused a home-made UN flag with lighter fluid and set it alight. They shouted support for New.

At a similar rally in Texas, Mark Gilman, the host of a Houston talk radio station, told the audience: "Let's stop talking about Michael New as some selfish kid who didn't have the guts to go to Bosnia. Michael New is a hero."

Supporters presented a proclamation to New's family that said "no American citizen ought to be forced to serve any foreign power, including the United Nations, against his will."

Among hard-right and so-called militia groups in America the UN is regarded as the key to a grand assault on US sovereignty. Mainstream Republicans have traditionally opposed US troops serving under foreign flags. While New has made only a few statements, his father Daniel New told the Houston Chronicle he had given 65 talk show interviews, and Michael's attorney, retired Marine Colonel Ronald Ray, had given another 45. "I haven't sought out the talk shows," said Daniel New. "They've called me."