Hard Lessons in Somalia

THE United States has returned to the search for a political solution to the crisis in Somalia. This will involve negotiations with the Mogadishu warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed. From the beginning, the assumption that humanitarian aid could be separated from that of nation-building was wrong.

When US troops first deployed to Mogadishu in December 1992, they landed in the midst of a Somali struggle for power. Most of the men in the ``technicals,'' the armed vehicles, were serving the ambitions of warlords fighting to fill the vacuum in the nation's leadership.

General Aideed had led the overthrow of the previous dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre. He felt and, without doubt, still feels that he is the rightful successor. When he met the US troops and Ambassador Robert Oakley upon their arrival in early December, 1992, he sought US backing for his ambitions, as did other Somali political leaders.

Mr. Oakley recognized that the political aspect could not be separated from relief and, with the cooperation of the Ethiopians, arranged for a conference of Somali political leaders in Addis Ababa in January. Aideed attended, but has since paid only lip service to compromise with others.

Early in the operation, the mission of US and United Nations troops was broadened to disarm the population and find employment for the young men who had been roaming the streets, attacking and robbing the convoys. This may have been the turning point. Many of the relief agencies had operated by paying off the warring factions as the only way to get relief to the starving. The move to disarm changed the scene to one that directly challenged their strengths. The Pakistani soldiers who were killed on June 5 had just completed searches and inventories of Aideed's arms caches. The move to capture Aideed that followed the June 5 incident placed the US and UN in the middle of the political struggle. Aideed and his followers saw the effort as a plot to deny them access to power they felt was rightfully theirs. Despite conciliatory statements, they may still feel that they can wait out the international effort, and that the recent attacks have only strengthened their political position. They assume that they will be in Somalia longer than any outside forces.

Oakley, working with Somalia's African neighbors, must create a stable internal order so that the US and UN can leave with dignity. Aideed will be a tough negotiator, emboldened by his successes. Other war lords, recently subdued, will demand participation. The remaining arsenals of arms will be a constant threat to order. In the US, many will severely criticize efforts to negotiate with those who have killed Americans and other UN peacekeepers.

In the US and at UN headquarters, Somalia has been regarded as a test case for the ability of the international community to deal with disasters created by internal unrest. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that it is an illusion to ignore that areas of humanitarian disaster are often marked by ruthless struggles for power.

If the nations of the world are unwilling to risk the sacrifices in time and lives involved in such confrontations, the tasks of relief may have to remain with those courageous private agencies that, by whatever means available to them, work with or around the warring factions.

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