UN to Break New Ground in Plan For Peacekeepers in Somalia

WITHIN the next few days, the UN Security Council is expected to give Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali the broad, tough new mandate he wants for UN operations in Somalia.

Under the new orders, UN peacekeepers will take on one of the most challenging and open-ended jobs in UN history. The assignment will range from providing a secure environment for aid delivery in Somalia - the prime task of the United States-led coalition forces there during the last three months - to helping the nation rebuild politically and economically in the aftermath of a devastating, two-year civil war.

Somalia needs everything from banks, hospitals, and schools to a disciplined army and neutral police force. So far, donor pledges total more than three-quarters of the $167 million requested by the UN for relief and rehabilitation. The Council has been waiting for a solid cost estimate from the secretary-general on peacekeeping operations before it acts; the price is expected to be high.

The shift from a US-led coalition to a UN operation (UNOSOM II), once expected as early as February, is now officially set for May 1.

The UN expects to do the job with 28,000 troops and a civilian staff of 2,800. It aims to cover almost twice as much territory - including the self-proclaimed secessionist state of Somaliland in the north - as did the US-led coalition, which began operations with 37,000 troops. As many as 5,000 of the 14,000 US troops now in Somalia may stay on to provide logistical and emergency help.

In his recent report to the Council, Mr. Boutros-Ghali said the job of disarming Somali factions of both guns and heavy weapons deserves top priority and has barely begun. He wants to give UNOSOM II enforcement powers under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which allows force if global security is threatened.

Yet any outside power making administrative decisions in a conflict risks being viewed as partisan, says Jeswald Salacuse, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. "You may be trying with good will to establish order," he says, "[but] you're not the neutral you like to think you are."

Some Somalis view the UN as weak. The limited mandate of UN troops posted there before US forces arrived made many virtual prisoners of their barracks. Despite the current push for a stronger mandate, doubts persist, particularly among relief workers and development experts, that the UN is equipped for the job. UN officials say high-level discussions on specifics have been under way for months and insist the transition will be smooth.

The scope of the UN job in Somalia often is compared to that in Cambodia, where UN forces are involved in everything from disarming troops and preparing for elections to helping administer the country. Yet Somalia has no government and no current plans for elections. A National Reconciliation Conference of Somali warlords, professionals, and intellectuals under way in Addis Ababa is focused on such issues as whether Somalia should have a central government. Some attendees talk of a confederation with reg ional autonomy.

"Typically the UN goes in [to a conflict] when the various sides have agreed to a peace," says Thomas Sheehy, an Africa specialist with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. "Here we're talking about a totally new ballgame. In Somalia there's no peace to keep. UN troops will be doing more peacemaking than peacekeeping."

"This particular UN operation breaks new ground," an Asian diplomat on the Security Council says. "Every aspect will have to be very carefully considered." A key UN concern is ensuring that millions of unemployed Somalis gain access to training and jobs. Hundreds of thousands of returning refugees also need work.

Finding a political solution, however, is the paramount need in Somalia. The country has no recent history of power sharing. Whatever help the UN provides, says John Marcum, a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, should include clearly articulated limits of its involvement and a reminder to Somalis that the UN cannot force them to live together peacefully.

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