A CEASE-FIRE signed late Tuesday by leaders of the two rival factions fighting each other in the Somali capital of Mogadishu is a breakthrough fraught with difficulties.
The agreement - negotiated by United Nations Undersecretary-General James Jonah and representatives of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Arab League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference - marks the first time these groups have combined efforts to seek an end to a civil war and signals a shift away from a past "hands-off" policy toward internal conflicts of sovereign states.
Several important details have yet to be worked out. These include: determining whether the UN team that will monitor the cease-fire will be armed or unarmed; agreeing on an arrival date for the peacekeeping group; and deciding how large a team will be sent.
"You can never be sure of 100 percent compliance," Mr. Jonah told the Monitor. "You need someone to monitor [the cease-fire]."
The cease-fire is also the first accord signed in Mogadishu by the leaders themselves. Representatives of the two sides signed an agreement at UN headquarters in New York last month, but that agreement preceded some of the most intense fighting. And although Tuesday's accord was to take immediate effect, some weapons-fire continued in the divided capital yesterday.
Somalia's current unrest began in late 1990 over dissatisfaction with the 21-year regime of President Mohammed Siad Barre. Members of rival clans from southern and central Somalia marched toward the capital. The United Somali Congress (USC) of the central Hawiye clan, under the command of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, entered Mogadishu in late January 1991, and within a week, President Barre was forced to flee.
An interim government was established, with USC member Mohammed Ali Mahdi as president. Mr. Ali Mahdi was again named interim president at a meeting of representatives of most Somali clans in neighboring Djibouti.
In the ensuing months, a rift widened between General Aidid and Ali Mahdi. Aidid claims Ali Mahdi's selection was not democratic because it did not involve all of the Somali clans.
Since November, forces loyal to the two leaders have been engaged in a war of attrition that has destroyed parts of Mogadishu, claimed at least 5,000 lives, and wounded up to 25,000 others, according to Western relief officials.
Human rights groups have criticized the international community for its slow response to the Somali crisis. In a report last month, Washington-based Africa Watch said the UN and the United States have used security concerns as an excuse for not intervening in the civil war.
The report acknowledged incidents in which UN, US Embassy, and relief personnel have been in danger, but argued that making aid conditional upon an end to the fighting was to dismiss the role acute food shortages have played in prolonging the conflict.
A main obstacle to the cease-fire is Aidid's opposition to armed UN monitors. He originally opposed any foreign intervention, but has apparently agreed to accept a UN monitoring team.
Jonah has not ruled out the use of armed UN troops to try to enforce the accord reached this week. Dispatching a peacekeeping force would require a vote by the UN Security Council.
One UN official, speaking privately, said the UN monitoring team would probably not be armed. But, the official cautions, unarmed monitors would be vulnerable to attacks, robbery, and general harassment from the many bands of heavily armed forces in Mogadishu.
Machivenyika Mapuranga, OAU assistant secretary-general and one of the diplomats who helped negotiate the cease-fire, supports armed peacekeepers. If unarmed monitors cannot do the job, it may be necessary to send in "armed UN troops to keep the peace," Mr. Mapuranga says. Military intervention by the UN to try to stop renewed fighting would be a "last option," he adds, but one that "will get the support of the OAU."
This marks a departure for the OAU. Since its inception in 1963, the OAU has taken a hands-off approach to interference in the "internal affairs" of other member states.
"Yes, members should not interfere, but the organization must have the mandate to make humanitarian interventions," says Mapuranga. He says the organization now has a new division for conflict management and resolution.
While he did not suggest other countries where the OAU might get involved, candidates for international action include Sudan, where a civil war is in its ninth year, and Zaire, where massive civilian-government clashes have not led to civil war, but have caused wide-spread hunger in the capital of Kinshasa.
The 21-nation Arab League is also showing new activism regarding conflict settlement. In addition to its involvement in the Somali accord, the Arab League is scheduled later this month to reassess its role in peaceful conflict resolution in sovereign states.
UN Undersecretary Jonah flew to Kismayo yesterday, a coastal city south of Mogadishu, where he hoped to meet with leaders of other factions who have been contending for control of that city. Jonah hopes to bring all factions in Somalia together for a national reconciliation conference. Northern Somali declared its independence last year, however, and may not attend such a conference.