THE arrival yesterday of the first armed United Nations troops in Mogadishu to guard distribution of relief food marks the second step in a three-part UN plan to curb massive starvation and armed anarchy in Somalia.
It is considered a highly risky move. As the first 60 Pakistani soldiers, to be joined later this month by 440 more, prepare to take up their UN posts, UN officials, Somalis, and Western relief workers express concern.
"We certainly hope to avoid having a Sarajevo situation," says Jan Eliasson, the UN's under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, referring to the UN peacekeeping troops killed in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The UN's three-part plan is to: provide large-scale food relief; protect distribution efforts from the armed bandits who have been stealing much of the relief supplies; and try to arrange a peace settlement among warring Somali factions.
Already, UN personnel in Somalia and workers from other humanitarian organizations have become "targets and not only innocent bystanders in the internal conflict," Mr. Eliasson says. Two of the 50 unarmed UN monitors already in Mogadishu to report violations of a cease-fire between the two major factions recently were shot and wounded at a Somali checkpoint. The two were riding in a clearly marked UN vehicle. Several international and Somali relief workers also have been wounded or killed.
THE UN plan for armed troops "isn't going to work," predicts Bob Koepp of the Lutheran World Federation. Mr. Koepp used to work for the UN in Somalia. "The present generation [of Somalis] carrying the guns doesn't care about human lives. If [UN troops] get in the way, [Somalis] are going to shoot them."
But Hussein Siad, a Somali who has held posts in the former dictatorial regime of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre and under current Interim President Mohamed Ali Mahdi, suggests armed Somali looters will be intimidated by a UN show of force.
The UN Security Council has limited the mandate of its troops in Somalia to guarding food distribution. Western relief workers, however, express concern that the UN has not informed the Somalis about the role of the new troops.
"What we're concerned about is how Somalis perceive these UN guards," says Save The Children spokesman Don Redding.
Mr. Redding says the UN troops must "not behave as an occupation force or peacekeeping force. It's not just a matter of training a gun on anybody who gets too close to a bag of food." The UN troops should "talk to clan elders" and other Somali leaders to try to maintain order, he says.
Another relief worker says the presence of UN troops could raise tensions among Somalis if they displace Somalis now working - even if ineffectually - as food-distribution guards. Private relief workers feel they could become "targets" of violence by such displaced, frustrated Somalis, this worker said.
A UN spokesman in Mogadishu said the plan is for troops to work with current Somali guards and not push them out of jobs. Any displaced guards may be paid to act as policemen, he says.
Ketema Yifru, Eastern Africa director of the UN World Food Programme, says that more than 500 troops are needed. Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, Mr. Ali Mahdi's rival, has agreed only to the 500 figure, but an Aideed supporter in Nairobi says the general is willing to discuss another 3,000 troops the UN Security Council has authorized to protect food throughout Somalia.
Meanwhile, more than a year after civil war led to widespread famine, food deliveries are accelerating. The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross announced Saturday a plan to send more than 200,000 tons of food in the next four months.
Last week, Eliasson and UNICEF director Jim Grant outlined a plan that includes supplementary feeding for 300,000 children, measles vaccination for 1.2 million children, provision of seeds and tools to Somali farmers, and improved water supplies.