THROUGHOUT the deployment of United Nations forces to Somalia, critics have complained that too little is being done to negotiate a solution to the conflict. Yet behind the scenes, UN negotiators are quietly opening up dialogue with several factions within the ethnic group of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed. (Aideed backer captured, Page 20.)
Whether the talks will lead to formal negotiations or what points might be negotiated is unclear. But if the various groups agree to limit their attacks on UN troops and cut their military backing of General Aideed, the scope of the currently intensifying conflict in the divided capital of Mogadishu could be reduced, UN officials say.
It would be a mark of progress even if the conflict became a ``small-scale guerrilla war'' instead of one marked by the big battles that have been taking place recently, says a UN official who asked not to be identified.
But a Somali political analyst familiar with the talks says most of the negotiations are like Christmas decorations - they look pretty but have little value. Aideed's fellow clan members will stick with him ``out of fear or loyalty,'' he says.
Most of the Somalis meeting with UN officials lack the authority of their group to negotiate, the Somali analyst contends. The only serious talks have been with the Sulayman, a subdivision of Aideed's own ethnic group, who have made ``a real split with Aideed,'' he adds.
But United Nations negotiators believe the talks are worth pursuing. ``There are cracks'' in what appears to be monolithic support for Aideed within his own ethnic group, the UN official says.
SOMALIS are divided into ethnic groups known as clans. Aideed and his archrival in Mogadishu, Mohamed Ali Mahdi, who controls the northern part of the city, belong to the Hawiye clan.
But the two men belong to different subclans. Mr. Ali Mahdi is an Abgal; Aideed is Habar-Gedir.
There are five principal sub-subclans of the Habar-Gedir, including the Sulayman, the Ayr, and Aideed's own, the Saad. The Sulayman have sent delegations recently to talk with the UN. The Sulayman have also agreed, apparently without consulting Aideed, to set up a district council with UN help in their home territory in central Somalia.
``That shows Aideed is not in control of all the Habar-Gedir,'' the UN official says. Aideed, for the most part, has refused to cooperate in any way with the UN.
A group of 25 Habar-Gedir elders and other representatives, five from each sub-subclan, was formed earlier this year over Aideed's objections. Aideed appointed five members from his own Saad group just before the elders began functioning. The group of elders was recently in touch with the UN, which has successfully brokered peace agreements between Somali factions in the past.
The Hawadley, a subclan of the Hawiye that was formerly aligned with Aideed, is also now critical of Aideed and has been talking with the UN.
Additionally, the UN is trying to work with the Somali National Alliance (SNA), Aideed's army. ``Informal contacts'' are underway, says Farouk Malwal, civilian spokesman for the UN in Somalia. ``Formal dialogue should be started soon,'' Mr. Malwal adds.
US Ret. Adm. Jonathan Howe, who heads the UN mission here, says it is ``hard to know'' if the contacts with the SNA will result in any real negotiations.
``It's risky to be disenchanted with Aideed,'' he says.
But he adds that the UN also has been in contact with some SNA youth, ``the people paid to go out and shoot.''
In the ongoing conflict between the UN and Aideed, these young fighters are being ``killed, maimed, psychologically disturbed,'' Admiral Howe adds. ``They knew they were being used [by Aideed].''