Relief Troops In Somalia Now Turn to Food

Broad-based peace initiative with rival clans is seen as key to progress against famine

FRENCH combat troops on foot and United States Marines atop amphibious tanks manned key downtown intersections here yesterday. Hundreds of curious and jovial Somalis swirled around them, some even peering down the barrel of an automatic rifle of one of the just-arrived French soldiers.

But as US helicopters swung back and forth over this suddenly relaxed seaside capital, United Nations, US, and private relief officials were planning expanded food deliveries to those still starving in the interior, and stepping up efforts to try to end two years of anarchy and civil war.

The arrival of the US Marines was "just the very beginning" of the rescue in Somalia, a senior UN official, Olivio Bota, said here yesterday.

On the peace front, efforts were focused on bringing together the leaders of the two rival sub-clans in Mogadishu, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and self-proclaimed President Mohamed Ali Mahdi. An aide to General Aideed, Mohamed Hassan Awali, said Aideed had agreed to meet Mr. Mahdi twice, today and Saturday. UN officials met with both men yesterday.

But a broader peace initiative is essential, according to Mr. Bota, who is the senior adviser to Ismat Kattani, special representative to Somalia for the UN secretary-general. "All [political leaders] should participate in the process," said Bota in an interview. "These two [Aideed and Mahdi] have to go."

For the Western troops to establish food distribution and then go home - with Aideed and Mahdi still vying for power - would mean the US-led military intervention was a "waste of time," claims Ahmed Mumin Warfa, a former professor of botany at the now-closed Somali National University. "The crimes committed during these two years [since rebels ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre] were more than the crimes committed by Barre."

A broader-based meeting is planned for Jan. 4, bringing together some 60 elders of various clans around the country, according to Professor Warfa. The meeting, likely to be held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, will also include representatives from some 20 private relief groups operating in Somalia, to allow discussions of both political and relief issues.

In Somalia, peace, politics, and relief are intertwined. In the city of Baidoa Wednesday, Somali gunmen shot their way into the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to a CARE official. Last week gunmen stole a CARE payroll. And there were reports from relief officials that the presence of heavily armed vehicles, known locally as "technicals," has increased in the past two days there.

Relief officials assume this is related to the arrival of the US Marines Wednesday. The marines were expected to expand their own presence in famine-hit towns of Baidoa and Bardera, where armed looting of relief materials has deprived many Somalis of badly needed food.

Both Somalis and Western relief officials were waiting impatiently for the marines to expand operations to such places.

"They should go everywhere, quickly," says Abdel Hussein Momen, a Somali accountant now out of work.

An official in Nairobi, Kenya, with Catholic Relief Service said he expects CRS "will be expanding rapidly" its distribution of food in villages around Baidoa as soon as the Western troops secure the town.

Here in Mogadishu, removal of the so-called "green line" dividing the city into areas controlled by Aideed and Mahdi would facilitate relief efforts. Relief officials now have to drive to the line and arrange for another vehicle with a driver from the rival sub-clan on the other side to pick them up, says Klaus Peters, acting director of Caritas and Diakonie, two German charities operating water and health programs here.

Meanwhile, the pace of relief deliveries to Somalia is picking up because of the now secure port and airport, says Paul Mitchell, spokesman for the UN's World Food Programme.

A WFP ship shelled by Mogadishu artillery as it tried to land last month is heading back to Mogadishu from Mombasa, Kenya, Mr. Mitchell said. Another 40,000 tons of corn coming from the US is due in Mombasa by Christmas, and will be sent to various places in Somalia from there, he added.

Altogether, "83,000 tons of food is being loaded or is already on the high seas," Somalia-bound, Mitchell said yesterday. But he and other relief officials made it clear that the port of Kismayo had to be secured to get food more quickly to people in southern Somalia. UNICEF had to evacuate three foreign personnel from Kismayo due to increasing violence, the result of clashes between rival clans or food looting.

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