UN Attack in Somalia Seen as Spur to War, Harmful to Aid Effort
CALLS FOR DIPLOMACY
NAIROBI, KENYA — YESTERDAY'S assault by United States and other United Nations troops against the forces of militia leader Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and the violent reaction by his supporters complicate Somali peace efforts in two ways:
* They seal a trend begun last month that escalates encounters between General Aideed's men and UN troops to an all-out guerrilla war in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.
* They have made humanitarian work there more dangerous.
The military effects on Aideed are harder to measure. He survived a US-led assault on June 17, and apparently this one, and flaunts a UN order for his arrest. His forces seem as determined as ever to keep resisting the UN disarmament efforts.
After the attacks yesterday, some international relief workers, and even Somalis outside of Aideed's own clan, called for the UN to use diplomatic means in solving the Somali conflict instead of relying so heavily on military solutions.
"It's better to negotiate," said one Somali in Nairobi who asked not to be identified. To flush out Aideed's forces from the capital, he added, you need complete control of the streets. "It's very dangerous. Even Said Barre [the former Somali dictator overthrown in January 1991] couldn't do that."
Aideed and his forces will remain in Mogadishu, this Somali predicted, and more fighting is likely.
IN yesterday's attack, US Cobra helicopter gunships and supporting ground forces targeted what a UN spokesman described as a command operations center of Aideed's Somali National Alliance. The attack, which Aideed forces say killed at least 73 Somalis, was in the same area as the June 17 attack.
In response to the UN attacks, angry mobs turned for revenge on the nearest available target - foreign journalists trying to cover the events. Two photographers - one for the Associated Press and the other for the Reuters news agency - were killed in the wake of the UN strikes. Two other Reuters employees were reported missing and a third was stabbed and shot, apparently by an angry mob of Somalis.
International relief workers reacted with dismay to the growing violence in Mogadishu. "It's tragic," said one whose Nairobi-based agency serves Somalia.
The growing militarization in Mogadishu has "certainly made things more difficult to continue operations up there," said Maura Barry, a CARE official in the Nairobi office, which backstops the agency's operations in Somalia.
"They [the US and UN] seem more focused on Aideed than securing the work of [relief agencies]," Ms. Barry added. "There needs to be more coordination between the political and military [efforts]." At times, requested UN military escorts for food distribution do not show up, or distribution sites are changed by the UN at the last minute, she explained.
But some food distribution has been continued by CARE and a number of other relief agencies operating in Mogadishu since the June 17 attacks on Aideed. Elsewhere in Somalia, life is generally calm, but relief efforts have been hampered somewhat by the reduced staffing at Mogadishu relief offices.
Most UN and many relief personnel were evacuated after tensions began building following the June 5 slaughter of more than 20 Pakistani soldiers working for the UN. The UN holds Aideed responsible for the killings and has put out an arrest warrant. But Aideed has continued to circulate in the city.
Meanwhile reprisals against UN local staff have begun. Four Somalis distributing a UN newspaper were killed last week.
A UN official here for a few days from Mogadishu said Saturday that local staff with UNICEF identifications so far have not been hurt when stopped on the street by Aideed supporters. But some members of United Nations Operations in Somalia, which includes the UN troops, have been hauled out of cars and beaten.