Meeting the Challenges Facing a Troubled Somalia

Officials focus on disarmament, reconciliation, aid

STANDING in front of a row of roofless, doorless, windowless shops - their walls riddled with bullet holes - in one of the most war- and vandal-damaged sections of this seaside capital, one can appreciate the enormity of the challenges Somalia is facing.

In the wake of the United States's recent military intervention, it is again clear that the task ahead is not just one of physical reconstruction.

This society has been wrenched apart by years of civil war leading to the overthrow of a brutal dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, in January 1991, and since then, by internecine fighting between rebel groups.

Somali clans had developed a system of coexistence, despite periodic, small-scale conflicts. But following years of military backing from first the Soviet Union and then the United States, they armed themselves with everything from machine guns to anti-tank missiles and, since January 1991, have turned them on each other.

What is needed next, say Somalis, relief workers, US officials, and military officers from various countries comprising the United Nations forces here, is disarmament, political reconciliation among rival factions, and a resumption of humanitarian and development aid.

US retired Adm. Jonathan Howe, the UN Special Envoy to Somalia, is confident that after the dramatic shootout on June 17 between the UN and forces loyal to factional leader Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, the process of disarmament and reconciliation can be accelerated.

"The removal of one individual [Aideed] who clearly had decided to fight the UN for his own ends will speed it up," Admiral Howe told reporters on June 22.

The images the public got of the fighting in Mogadishu are not typical of the country, Howe says. Most of Somalia is at peace. And starvation is seen now as largely a thing of the past, though food relief is still needed for hundreds of thousands of displaced Somalis and others, say relief officials.

Although General Aideed was still at large yesterday, despite Howe's order for his arrest on June 17, neither US nor other UN officials are too concerned. They feel Aideed has been "marginalized," and that the repeated bombings of his strongholds serve as a loud message to other would-be opponents of the UN in Somalia.

The message is being heard in different ways, however.

"Guns cannot solve anything," says Ali Mohammed Ahmed, a Somali nurse, pausing for an interview in front of the row of heavily damaged shops.

But Mr. Ahmed, who lives in an area of the city under the control of militia leader Mohamed Ali Mahdi, says he supports the UN assault on Mr. Ali Mahdi's rival. "If a man is against Somali peace, we're happy to see him caught," he says of Aideed.

Yet the attacks on Aideed have simply "helped his popularity," says another Somali, Abdul Rashid.

In between such views are Somalis like Said Ibrahim, 12, who shines shoes to help his impoverished family here. "I started this when the civil war started" in 1991, he says, wearing a badly soiled shirt and pants and carrying a small shoulder bag with his brush and polish. "I would like to go to school again soon."

Tough tests lie ahead for the UN's disarmament plans.

Under an agreement signed by leaders of all the main factions, including Aideed, on March 27 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, heavy weapons are to be placed in depots under UN control. It was the UN's attempt to inspect one of those depots, belonging to Aideed, that led to the June 5 ambush by Aideed's forces against Pakistani troops, in which 23 Pakistani soldiers and about the same number of Somalis were killed. The incident escalated into the June 17 shootout and the destruction of Aideed's weapons depots by

the UN.

Further incidents last Sunday, in which two American soldiers and a Pakistani were wounded by sniper fire, suggest that anti-Western sentiments remain a danger.

OTHER factional leaders have not objected to identifying their heavy weapons depots and opening them to UN inspection. But the UN has not carried out inspections of all of these arms caches, especially in the north, where they have no troops. No one knows to what extent Aideed may still have hidden weapons.

The Addis Ababa agreement also stipulates a "simultaneous disarmament throughout the entire country." An Italian officer in Somalia says the US should tackle disarmament in a more even-handed way, instead of focusing on Aideed. Another Italian officer called for greater use of diplomacy instead of putting so much emphasis on force.

But there are encouraging signs of initial recovery in Somalia. A few towns, including Baidoa, Belet Huen, and Hargeisa, have modest police forces. Some, such as those in Belet Huen, are not armed, however. A minimal number of schools have started up again in these places as well as in parts of Mogadishu.

A visit to Belet Huen, which is just northwest of Mogadishu, revealed a sharp contrast to the sniper fire and bombs in the capital. Shops were open and full of goods; outdoor markets were jammed.

"Our region is very stable. There is peace and calm," said Elmi Ali Abdi, a Somali engineer living in Belet Huen.

Italian troops recently blew up the heavy weapons local factional leaders had placed in Belet Huen's depot. There were no guns in sight. But based on arms searches, UN soldiers say there are still plenty of weapons hidden in the town.

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