MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — AS United Nations troops begin to replace US-led forces in Somalia, relief workers and Somalis are asking whether the UN can curb the growing insecurity that even well-equipped US troops have found difficult to grapple with.
"You want security? Here it is," says the head of one relief agency as he opens his desk drawer to reveal a loaded pistol and points to the AK-47 rifle lying ready nearby. "We didn't need these four months ago, before the Americans came. Now we do."
The agency head, who asked not to be named, confirms that recent attacks on Western aid workers and warlords' growing anti-UN, antiforeigner rhetoric have made Somalia more dangerous than ever. His worry is shared by many Somalis and foreign observers, who hope the UN can keep the peace so that everyone - including relief agencies - can safely put away their weapons.
Robert Oakley, speaking March 12 at the end of his term as US ambassador to Somalia, said US forces have "brought Somalia back from the brink of self-destruction."
Much good has been done: The famine is now largely under control, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved, and the UN World Food Programme moved record amounts of food - more than 18,000 tons in three months - into Somalia. Rival Somali clan leaders began a second round of peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, March 15, and a neutral police force of 3,000 men and women is being formed.
Renewed conflict in the southern port city of Kismayu, however, caused one of Somalia's powerful warlords, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and his supporters to withdraw from the talks March 17.
General Aideed accused US and UN forces of inaction after a rival warlord, Mohamed Said Hersi, also known as General Morgan, drove supporters of Aideed's ally, Ahmed Omar Jess, out of Kismayu. US military spokesmen denounced Morgan's attack and said "decisive military action" was being planned to restore order to the city.
The Aideed-dominated Somali National Alliance (SNA) repeated their frequent allegation that US forces were not even-handed in their dealings with the various feuding factions.
The paradox of insecurity here has not been lost on the Somalis. The US-led forces numbered 37,000 at their peak, just weeks after arriving in early December to ensure deliveries of relief food and break the grip of well-armed militias.
Despite the high number of troops, however, the US-led effort has been unable to completely secure the capital, much less the countryside. How will fewer troops, spread over the entire country, keep control?
THE new UN force is expected to number 28,000 troops from 23 nations, including 5,000 US logistics personnel and a small "rapid reaction" force based offshore. Their mandate will be stronger than that of the US troops and will call for a total disarmament of all factions to make finding a political solution easier.
The UN force will be the first major "enforcement" mission of its kind, which a UN report published March 15 estimates will cost $1.5 billion a year.
For the UN, the continuing military and political clout of the warlords is worrisome. General Aideed had cooperated with the US forces until he called on his supporters to stage protests in late February. At the time, he blamed US forces for allowing General Morgan to attack the port of Kismayu. Two days of anti-US rioting in Mogadishu resulted.
Aideed and others have been very critical of the UN since the fall of President Mohamed Siad Barre two years ago. Aideed, in particular, has in the past accused the UN of meddling in Somalia's internal affairs.
Ismat Kittani, the Iraqi-born UN special envoy recently replaced by retired US Adm. Jonathan Howe, said neither he nor UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali were worried about the transition. And Mr. Oakley praised the foreign troops working with the US soldiers as a "superb force" that had learned to work together.
But Lt. Gen. Cevik Bir, the Turkish general who will command the forces, is worried. Turkey called for a postponement of the transition to UN forces, saying conditions were not yet right.
"The disarming of the different armed groups has not yet finished," a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "It is still premature to launch the UN operation."
But at least along the "green line" dividing this city, which has served as an indicator of peace or war during two years of conflict, all is peaceful now. US marines, who have set up razor wire on the sidewalks, patrol once-nasty streets and play Beatles music from their camp on the second floor of the former Commercial Bank. The Somalis complain, they say, if they don't play the music.
"It's so safe here now," a marine at Checkpoint 77 said after playing a game with a Somali boy, "that you can walk around naked with a target on your chest, and no one will touch you."