THE anticipated arrival of a United Nations cease-fire monitoring team in the famished and war-wracked Somali capital raises hopes for peace and a decline in the high rate of starvation there.
In what a senior UN official describes as a "breakthrough" agreement reached here July 19 between the UN and one of the main warring factions in Somalia, 47 unarmed UN cease-fire monitors will arrive this week in Mogadishu.
"These cease-fire monitors will certainly help to the extent they bring some kind of sense of security," says Mohammed Sahnoun, the special representative to Somalia of the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who negotiated the agreement. "That will help bring in more food. The whole of Somalia is starving."
Negotiations are now under way to permit up to 500 armed UN troops to go to Somalia to protect food convoys in the city and to other parts of the country.
But the prime minister of the interim government, comparing the situation in Somalia to the crisis in Yugoslavia, called July 20 for 10,000 UN peacekeepers.
"Knowing our Somali people, they are very tough, and therefore very tough action is needed," said Prime Minister Arteh Ghalib.
Somalia, the easternmost nation in the Horn of Africa, has been divided by war since January 1991, when rebels overthrew the 21-year dictatorship of President Mohammed Siad Barre.
The most costly fighting broke out in November, when the United Somali Congress, which controlled Mogadishu, split into two opposing armed camps led by Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid and Mohamed Ali Mahdi, who claims the title of interim president.
During four months of heavy fighting in Mogadishu prior to the cease-fire in March, an estimated 14,000 people perished, many by starvation, and nearly 7,000 were wounded, according to Africa Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, both organizations based in the United States.
Although the cease-fire has held for the most part, the lack of security in Mogadishu has hampered food-relief efforts. The interim government has supported UN intervention, but General Aidid has only now agreed to international mediation.
"We thought [the idea of UN monitors] was a conspiracy to restore Ali Mahdi as a government," says Mohamed Awale, assistant to Aidid for international relations. But, he said, his own talks with diplomats has convinced him, and Aidid, that this was not true.
"We're pleased" with the agreement on the unarmed UN monitors. Mr. Awale says. "Their presence will encourage foreign people to send aid." Theft on the docks
The unarmed UN team will not tackle the problem of heavily armed looters who have been stealing large amounts of relief food delivered to the capital.
"Quite a big part - more than half" of the food relief delivered to Mogadishu may have been stolen, though only "a small part" has been stolen in other parts of the country, says Gregoire Tavernier, deputy head of delegation for Somalia of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The looters are often young people, "mostly from the countryside, who were part of the uprising against Siad Barre," Awale explains.
"When he [Barre] was gone, they had no livelihood. The gun became their own source of livelihood," he says.
Nor is the team mandated to protect relief shipments through contested areas outside the capital. The task of guarding food shipments in Somalia would fall to the armed UN troops, if an agreement can be reached on their deployment. Aidid wants to limit their numbers.
"You don't need 500," says Awale, objecting to the target number the UN wants.
Negotiations are also under way between the UN and both warring factions in Mogadishu for international financial aid to reestablish a national police force in the city. A major problem in Mogadishu is one of law and order, Awale says.
Longer-range plans by the UN under discussion here call for confining rebels to camps where they will get civilian job training. More needed than pledged
Meanwhile, relief officials have begun using airlifts to Mogadishu in addition to ships to avoid security problems, which change from day to day, Mr. Yifru says.
Mr. Tavernier says tensions have subsided somewhat in Somalia as more relief food has arrived. The ICRC, one of the major relief organizations in Somalia, is feeding about 500,000 people a day in some 400 centers throughout the country, he said.
So far, the ICRC has distributed about 65,000 tons since January. Tavernier estimates Somalia will need 80,000 tons in the next six months beyond what has already been pledged by all international donors.
"Hundreds of people are dying every month in central and southern Somalia of starvation," he says.