Changing of the Guard in Somalia

COMPARED with its high-profile beginning, Operation Restore Hope came to a quiet, dignified end this week. In a simple ceremony outside the coastal town of Merca, United States troops turned the last sector they occupied over to Pakistani soldiers, who are part of the UN military operation in Somalia.

By several measures and despite causalities among US troops and Somalis, the operation was a success: The famine was brought under control, with the World Food Programme moving a record 18,000 tons of food into the country in a three-month period; 15 warring factions agreed to disarm and form an interim government; arms caches were destroyed; and a semblance of order was brought to major portions of a country rife with anarchy and clan warfare.

If the next phase of the United Nations effort to help rebuild Somalia economically and politically is to succeed, however, the organization must do a better job of establishing itself as an impartial agent for change and demonstrate a willingness to use force, if necessary, to support that rebuilding.

To its credit, the UN has given UNOSOM II forces, which are replacing US troops, a stronger mandate than it gave Operation Restore Hope. Prior to that operation, a weak mandate for the initial UN operation in Somalia left leaders of the warring factions with little respect for UN authority.

This new authority, however, already is being tested. On Wednesday, 20 Somalis who had been security guards prior to Operation Restore Hope occupied the UNICEF building in Mogadishu for several hours, claiming that the organization owed them money. The incident ended without violence; but it underscores the concerns of many people that the UN will be no more successful in maintaining order after Restore Hope than it was in trying to establish order before the US Marines landed.

We hope that last month's negotiations with Somalia's factions have helped dispel some of the perception among the country's leaders of UN favoritism and weakness. That perception must now be erased among the rank and file if UNOSOM II is to succeed in providing a secure climate in which the country can rebuild itself.

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