BElet Uawo, Somalia — WEARING black military boots, a camouflage uniform, and gold-rimmed sunglasses, a Somali general stroked his foot-long black beard and explained why the war in Somalia may be far from over.
Gen. Mohamed Siad Hersi, better known by his nickname, "Morgan," is the son-in-law of Somali dictator Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, who was ousted by rebels in January 1991.
"Now our plan is how to get them back," General Morgan said recently, speaking of territory his forces lost this year to the Somali warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed. His forces reportedly captured the central town of Barbera, an important famine-relief center, Oct. 13.
As General Morgan previewed plans for such attacks he was guarded by a circle of young men holding automatic weapons from both the United States and the former Soviet Union.
The scene explains why, according to US, United Nations, and private relief officials, the war in Somalia has the potential to continue indefinitely.
It is fueled by:
* The huge stockpiles of weapons from the US, and the former Soviet Union, both major arms suppliers to Somalia at different times during the cold war.
* Other weapons and ammunition acquired before and since the fall of General Siad Barre, often via the black market from or through countries such as Libya, Ethiopia, Italy, some Gulf states, and Kenya.
* The willingness of rival factions to fight on if political maneuvers fail to expand their territorial base.
Indirectly, UN and Western relief agencies may be financing purchase of some of these arms and ammunition.
Some payments, made by relief groups to armed Somali rebels for protection against attacks by other Somalis on relief food and personnel, may go to buy guns and ammunition, according to Frederic Cuny, a consultant to the US Agency for International Development (AID) and Andrew Natsios, a senior AID official who is also President Bush's relief coordinator for Somalia.
Payments by relief agencies for armed protection from other armed Somalis "concerns me a lot" and "to an extent" is fueling the conflict, Mr. Natsios says.
Morgan's forces reportedly captured Barbera, an Aideed stronghold, according to a radio call from the Bardera office of the relief agency Care.
There was no independent confirmation; nor could the possibility be ruled out that the fight was not Morgan's attack but a clash between General Aideed's Habar-Gedir sub-clan, which occupies Bardera, and the local Rahanweyn clan.
UN and relief officials had nonetheless evacuated personnel upon rumors of the attack.
WESTERN diplomat in Nairobi says Morgan probably has somewhere between 500 and 5,000 fighters, and is "pretty well discounted" as a threat by Aideed's United Somali Congress (USC).
But a UN official in Mogadishu says Morgan has "some pretty well-trained people, enough to be a nuisance, and maybe more." Disrupting Somalia "doesn't take many" people, the official adds.
On Sept. 23, three Kenyan Air Force officers and the Kenyan military helicopter they were flying were captured by Aideed's USC forces in Bardera. The USC accused the Kenyan government of trying to get arms to remnants of Barre's forces, including Morgan, in the area.
James Simani, a senior official in the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says the helicopter crew "got lost" and was not carrying arms. "Why would we supply Barre when we ourselves have need for the arms?"
But a Western diplomat told the Monitor of an eyewitness report that there was ammunition on board the helicopter. A diplomat from another Western embassy in Nairobi said his country finds the Kenyan denials difficult to believe.
"I'd be very surprised if armaments weren't coming from Kenya, given the fact that Morgan is right there along the Kenyan border," says Rakiya Omaar, a Somali and director of the London-based human rights group Africa Watch. "Kenya supplied Barre."
A senior US official says "most of it [weapons and ammunition reaching Somalia since the fall of Barre] is coming from the Ethiopian Army."
"You can buy a Russian tank for $2,000," the official said. The Soviet Union was a former arms supplier to Ethiopia, as was the US before that.
USAID consultant Cuny claims a payment of "about $1 million" in mid-July 1991 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Aideed backer Oto Osman in Mogadishu for security and cargo handling appears to have been used to buy ammunition.
"Within 48 hours, an equivalent amount showed up in Lisbon for an order of ammunition," Cuny says.
An ICRC official in Nairobi says the most the ICRC pays for gunmen in a typical week averages $3,500 countrywide.
No figures for cargo handling were available. A UN official doubts the security-payment-arms link because most payments are to individual Somalis.