Somalia's 15 Minutes of Fame May End

THE hiss is the sound of air going out of a story. With President Bush's departure, the American media army is scaling down, leaving Somalia to wonder if its 15 minutes of fame have ticked away.

Drivers who once demanded $100 a day for a trip to the airport are lucky to get $20. Newly unemployed interpreters are canvassing in vain for new customers. Reporters no longer spread blankets in packed hotel lobbies.

"There is other news in the world, and this is not necessarily a Page 1 story any more," said Robert Wiener, a CNN executive producer. "The story has cost a fortune for all the networks."

Somalia sneaked up on the world as it slid into anarchy and mass starvation after the ouster of President Mohamed Siad Barre in January 1991. Then Mr. Bush announced he would send US troops to ensure safe aid deliveries.

The two-day Bush visit, which ended Saturday, became sort of a cutdown point for many news organizations. Unlike during the Gulf war, the military has let the media run free here.

While relief workers appreciated the attention, they won't miss reporters sleeping in their offices or hitching rides on relief flights.

"We're here to provide humanitarian aid, not be a hotel and travel agency," said Cynthia Osterman of CARE.

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