Major Battle in Somalia Raises Doubts on UN Role

As smoke clears, some analysts recommend negotiations with Aideed

AMID increasing Somali attacks on UN and US troops, the US Senate, senior UN and US officials, relief agencies, and Somalis are reassessing the UN's performance here.

Some analysts say that in the face of heightened resistance from Somali gunmen - as seen in a major battle on Sept. 9 - the UN's peacekeeping mission is crumbling. Though the United Nations has ended starvation, these analysts say, it has not brought about peace or political stability.

They want the UN to focus more on negotiations, including with Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, and to try creative programs to find other employment for rank-and-file Somali gunmen.

Aides of General Aideed said on Sept. 11 that Aideed wants to talk peace with UN forces. ``We want to talk with UNOSOM [the UN Operation in Somalia], but UNOSOM is not capable of solving the matter peacefully,'' Aideed deputy Mohamed Hassan Awale told reporters.

But the same day, in the streets of Mogadishu, Aideed's militia ambushed a UN convoy of French soldiers. They returned fire, killing one Somali and wounding another.

UN negotiators have quietly opened up dialogue with several factions within Aideed's ethnic group. And initial contacts have been made with his fighting force even though the UN is still trying to arrest Aideed.

The idea is to try to isolate Aideed and pull away from him as many political and even military supporters as possible, according to UN officials here.

Some here argue that the UN is on track, despite running into stepped up military confrontations with Aideed's forces. They insist that arresting him is necessary to return stability to this city.

US Adm. Jonathan Howe (ret.), who heads the UN operations here, says that for the world to continue backing the UN mission, ``there needs to be a full debate'' on the UN's role. It is, he stresses, both a military and humanitarian role.

On Sept. 9, at least 200 Somali gunmen attacked a UN convoy. It was apparently the first time they had struck at tanks. US Cobra helicopter gunships then opened fire on the gunmen who were in a crowd, US officials say.

Scores of Somalis, including women and possibly children, were killed, according to the attacking Somali militia. Their estimates of more than 100 dead could not be verified. But UN military officials said it was one of the biggest battles to date involving the UN in Somalia.

The battle came just as the US Senate was debating a resolution, passed on Sept. 9, calling on President Clinton to seek US congressional approval by Nov. 15 of continued deployment of US troops in Somalia. Analysts on both sides of the debate, with the exception of Aideed and his supporters, agree that the UN should not pull out of Somalia now.

``If it [the UN] goes out of Somalia now, it will be worse,'' says Mohamoud Ghelle, a noted Somali lawyer who is critical of the UN's heavy emphasis on a military solution. He and others say that the precarious security here would deteriorate further if the UN leaves.

The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Colin Powell, told the Associated Press on Sept. 9: ``It would be devastating to our hopes for the new world order'' to pull out now. ``I don't think we should cut and run because things have gotten a little tough.''

Both critics and supporters of the UN operation in Somalia are examining ways to improve the UN's work here.

``The only way to control the warlords is for the gunmen to become part of UNOSOM,'' says a Somali intellectual who belongs to the same subclan, or ethnic group, as Aideed.

``Some [gunmen] are university students, some have gone to high school,'' she says. ``Give them work as security [guards] or as police. Some can go back to nomadic society'' with UN help such as the provision of livestock, she adds.

Such an approach might work for gunmen willing to leave the city. But after more than two years of using weapons and tasting city life, many former nomads may not want to leave Mogadishu, says Simon Israel, spokesman for the Somali program of CARE, the US-based international relief agency.

``If you can race up and down Afgoi Road [site of numerous UN-Somali confrontations] firing an rpg [rocket-propelled grenade] or a mortar, what greater thrill?'' he says of the young gunmen.

Mr. Israel says the UN mission is crumbling and recommends that the UN or a group more acceptable to Aideed try to negotiate with him. If Aideed is arrested, others will take his place, he says.

A senior US official here insists the twin peacemaking and humanitarian mission has ``not gone astray.'' Speaking privately, the official argues that a showdown with Aideed is inevitable, given his growing resistance to formation of an independent judiciary and to disarmament, as well as his attempts to dominate the process of forming a national council.

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