AS the American-led international forces expand throughout Somalia to restore order in primary food distribution centers overrun by gunmen, United States and United Nations officials are looking for ways to ensure that clan warfare does not reclaim Somalia when foreign troops leave.
Although Washington and the UN have rejected disarming the Somali population, one solution to the problem of restoring order that is gaining support in Somalia may require disarmament: the creation of a neutral national police force.
Gunmen and clan-based militias have hidden their weapons and avoided engagement with foreign forces. A joint 300-man US/Belgian force made an amphibious and helicopter landing Dec. 20 at the port of Kismayo, a crucial war-torn point that will be used for getting desperately needed food aid to southern Somalia. Armored vehicles and troops have already begun to escort food convoys in the capital and to remote villages outside Baidoa. And a heavily armed column escorted a 20-truck convoy with 300 tons of re lief food from Mogadishu port to Baidoa Dec. 20, marking the opening of the first - and most important - "safe corridor" for relief food.
"The factions will be weakened by this military intervention, so the creation of a new force - with UN assistance - might work," says a senior UN official. "But we've got to negotiate with the right people. At all costs, [Somalia's main warlords] Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and [self-styled interim President] Mohamed Ali Mahdi must be left out."
The idea of creating a new national police force, or even the resuscitation of the old one, has been mentioned frequently since Somalia slipped into factional battles two years ago. But usually it was mentioned by General Aideed or Mr. Ali Mahdi, and linked to their own militias. Aideed has insisted for months that the UN should finance a "neutral" police force of 6,000 men - under his control. Ali Mahdi has always welcomed UN troops - as many as possible - who would enforce the status quo, and thereby g ive legitimacy to his claims to power.
The issues are very clear to Achmed Jamma Musa, the former head of the Somalia police force under former dictator Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, who has kept free of clan politics and is seen as one of the few Somalis who could lead a new national, neutral, police force.
"Before any neutral police force can be established, there must be political reconciliation," he says. "These men have jealously guarded their turf.... Now they must agree that a national force is required. Only then could we redraft the old force, and weed out those who were contaminated by looting and killing."
Aideed and Ali Mahdi met in UN-organized talks on Dec. 11 and agreed to withdraw their forces from the capital within 24 hours and form a unified force. That has not been done.
"The United States has the guns, so it can be more forceful about security agreements between warlords than the UN can," says one UN official. "We hope that some planning for the new police force can be done before the Americans hand over to the new UN troops.
"The problem is that it is impossible to discuss facts and figures when we have no indication yet where, or who, will have the authority to create the force. We don't even know whether the UN troops will play a more decisive role," the official says.
According to former Chief Musa, most of his senior officials - many of whom joined the police force before Mr. Siad Barre came to power in 1969 - have maintained their intregrity, and are now waiting for word that they are needed once again. "The majority have remained decent, though decency has not existed in Somalia for two years," he said.
If the force were rejuvenated, says another UN official, cleansing those contaminated by extortion would be a brutal business. "Somalia is so used to extortion, the police would have to be very disciplined. If not, their punishment would have to be harsh. There would have to be an inter-clan agreement that if anyone is executed, it won't cause a blood feud. There's no choice, because the security of the country must come from the Somalis."
Musa agrees that a clan element in any new police force could turn the neutral force into just another militia. Only when free of factionalism will the police be able to tackle the root cause of the country's war - and hunger: too many weapons.
"You can't have peace without disarmament and the consent of the people. The Somali people would love to hand their guns back if they knew there was a truly neutral, Somali force to protect them," Musa says.