Politics Over Power

THE United Nations mission to Somalia is at something of a turning point. The ambush and slaughter of 23 Pakistani peacekeepers on June 5, and the killing by Pakistani UN troops of 20 Somali demonstrators on Sunday, reveal contradictions in the UN operation that have yet to be resolved.

The United States-led UN mission to Somalia in December was humanitarian. But by May 5 when the food became plentiful and the warlords were quiet, the US left. The UN mission then became political. Contending forces in Somalia, including the warlords, were left to work out civil relations under UN assistance, but without the US to act as an enforcing big brother.

The killing of 23 Pakistani soldiers by rebels under warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed was the largest massacre of UN troops since 1961, when 44 "blue helmets" died in the Congo. Sadly, it was not surprising. Like warlords worldwide, Aideed uses guerrilla tactics that incite lawless behavior. The death of the soldiers was a direct attack on the idea of international peacekeeping. At a time when the White House has been criticized for retreating from an active role in the post-cold-war world, President Cl inton had little choice but to respond. Hence, US helicopter gunships have retaliated against Aideed in Mogadishu for three straight nights.

It is hoped the Somali crisis can be settled quickly. The disarming or capture of Aideed may help. He is inciting hatred among Somalis against UN troops that have brought food and a degree of order. Pakistani troops, no doubt angry themselves, fed this hatred by shooting into a crowd. An investigation into whether Aideed's rebels used women and children in the crowd as shields while firing on Pakistanis is needed.

In Somalia, as in Bosnia with the Serbs, and Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge, the UN is trying to resolve an inherent contradiction. Its approach has been strict neutrality regarding aggressors and victims. Hence, it tends to legitimize or accommodate not only those uninterested in peace and democracy, but those who would also use the UN process to their own violent ends. Many sober-minded Somalis warned the UN not to allow Aideed into the peace process.

The Pakistani cases show the problems of UN neutrality. The UN may have to shift and more actively support groups in Mogadishu that put politics above power.

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