More Doubts Raised About UN Ability to Take Control Of Somalia Reconstruction

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE United Nations is far from ready to take over the United States-led military operation in Somalia, according to US and UN officials, Western relief experts, and key Somali political leaders.

What is needed before the UN could successfully take over the US military and de facto political leadership role in Somalia, according to these analysts, is:

* A stronger mandate for UN troops in Somalia.

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* A more dynamic UN leadership stationed here.

* A political policy based on closer cooperation with Somalis.

UN special representative to Somalia Ismat Kattani, now in New York to meet with UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, told reporters his focus is now the timetable for the transition and the shift to development, not just relief and political reconciliation between Somali factions.

Militarily, no nation is likely to sign on to support a UN mission here unless the UN Security Council gives the ground forces the mandate to "operate as the US has," says Robert Oakley, chief US envoy to Somalia.

The Security Council gave the US-led intervention force clear authority to establish a safe environment to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies. A previous UN operation, involving about 5,000 Pakistani troops, who are still here, limited the troops to use of light weapons. They were not allowed to make any major moves without the approval of the local rival Somali faction leaders.

With Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, one of the Somali leaders, refusing to cooperate with the UN, the Pakistani troops never managed to extend their patrols much beyond the Mogadishu airport. Their light weapons were no match for the heavily armed clan militias and gangs.

"They were put in a position where they were humiliated," Ambassador Oakley told the Monitor.

So far the UN has not reached a consensus on the kind of mandate to give the UN operation that will replace the US-led force.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali wants the US to disarm militias before the UN steps in. So far, however, the US has operated only on the basis that heavy weapons, seen outside camps where the militia leaders have agreed to locate their big arms, are "fair game" to seize and destroy.

Phil Johnston, president of CARE but on loan here as the top UN relief official, says the UN mandate must be more specific on disarmament, and should cover the entire country, not just the southern and central regions where the US-led forces operate. Northern areas need security and relief help to avoid the war and famine of the other areas, he says.

But the problem of the UN replacing the US here goes beyond any Security Council mandate to include relief coordination and formation of a political policy leading to peace.

Farouk Mawlawi, spokesman for the UN operation in Somalia, says "the UN is so out-stretched," with 14 peacekeeping operations mounted in the last four years compared with 13 in the first 45 years.

"There's not enough evidence the UN is adequately staffed, or has the resources or the people able to adapt to the system here in Somalia," says Steven Rifkin, field director of Save the Children/UK, a relief and development agency here.

"On the political front, [the UN] failed miserably," Mr. Rifkin says. "They didn't even manage to get [Mohamed] Ali Mahdi and Aideed together." Mr. Ali Mahdi and General Aideed are rival factional leaders, each holding part of Mogadishu.

UN officials point with pride to the recent peace talks the UN sponsored in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. After two weeks of talks the factional leaders agreed to a cease-fire, disarmament, and a release of prisoners. Further talks are scheduled to begin March 15 to try to form an interim government.

But Mohamed Awale, a key aide to Aideed, says the UN did not consult adequately with factional leaders on who should attend the recently concluded talks. Aideed accuses the UN of being biased against his faction by giving too much importance to militarily less-significant factions.

"We don't want the Americans to go home," Mr. Awale said, speaking at Aideed's home here. "The US and the other major donor countries should remain in the forefront, and not leave [peace-making] to the usual [UN] bureaucracy."

"I have no confidence they'll get the right senior people," says a non-Somali source who has worked very closely with the UN.

Several Western relief officials say Mr. Kattani has barely made his presence felt.

"What's been done so far is the easy part," Rifkin says. "I am most concerned there doesn't appear to be a structure [within the UN] that can take this on."

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