SOMALIA is the UN peacekeepers' first venture into peacemaking, in which troops were mandated to use force to establish a secure environment for humanitarian efforts and for rebuilding the country.
The anarchy that cost some 300,000 lives through starvation and war has largely been quelled outside the capital, but the mission has stumbled over efforts to disarm the militia of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed in Mogadishu. Although General Aideed's men are thought to number only about 1,000, they are equipped with Soviet and American arms and are engaged in urban guerrilla warfare aimed at discrediting the UN presence. Aideed's militia is blamed for the deaths of about 66 UN personnel since last May.
The battle with Aideed has stirred controversy among Somalis, within the UN force itself, and in the United States Congress. While some Somalis accuse the UN of taking sides, contributing nations have had second thoughts about suffering casualties for the sake of a stable Somalia.
The Italians, according to UN and Somali sources, apparently struck a deal with Aideed's militia to go easy on weapons searches in exchange for not targeting their soldiers. The Germans sought to place their first post-World War II troops abroad in Belet Huen, where things are relatively quiet. And US congressmen, as casualties mount, have called for a reassessment and a date for US troops to come home. The UN secretary-general has warned that the mission could collapse if nations pull back from commitments.
The heavy military action in Mogadishu (also causing many Somali casualties) and the failure to capture Aideed have led to calls for shifting the emphasis to rebuilding the political structure. The issue of the mission's focus has caused tensions at several stages, which some attribute to the involvement of many nations.
Indeed, coordination of the forces of 30 nations is ``the most difficult problem,'' says US Ret. Adm. Jonathan Howe, head of the UN mission. Admiral Howe notes differences of language, culture, and military styles. For example, Pakistani troops are accused by some relief and UN officials of using too much force, the Italians of using too little. Not all nations are willing to follow UN commands, Howe says. ``You have to have unity of command. You can't have 30 different policies and go your own way.'' Even US troops, who have carried out most major offensives, are not technically under UN command, but answer to the Pentagon.
Yet should the nation-building part of the UN mandate take precedence, Howe cautions there are not sufficient resources for an effective effort. Rebuilding a nation's police, court, and political system from the ground up takes more money than has so far been given, he says. Donors have provided only ``a token amount.''