Aid Returns as Somali Violence Ebbs

Relief organizations stress that diplomacy, not manhunts, will facilitate nation-building

ENCOURAGED by the recent lull in violence in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, relief and development agencies are planning to resume their operations there.

Although food distribution is no longer a primary concern, fighting in Mogadishu has increased the need for improved sanitation, education, and health-care services.

Some relief workers evacuated during previous weeks of confrontation between the militia of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and forces of the United Nations and United States have returned to Mogadishu recently. Others are planning to return if the calm continues.

``We'll be closely watching events the next week or two, including the visit of [UN] Secretary-General [Boutros Boutros-Ghali],'' says Ann O'Dwyer, assistant field director of the Irish charity, Concern.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali was expected to visit Mogadishu during his current swing through Africa, against the wishes of some relief officials and others who worry that his presence could reignite anti-UN sentiment among General Aideed's followers. His visit to Mogadishu early this year sparked rock-throwing by Somalis around the compound where he stayed.

Relief officials interviewed here say they hope the UN and US continue to press for a diplomatic solution in Mogadishu rather than a return to hunting for Aideed and launching air and commando strikes against his militia. President Clinton approved the withdrawal of Army Rangers Oct. 19, saying they were not needed as 3,600 Marines have just arrived in Somalia.

``I'd counsel patience and restraint,'' says David Neff, director of the Somalia program for CARE, a private US charity. ``The events of last week, when Aideed came out in his striped shirt and tie [to announce release of an American helicopter pilot and a Nigerian soldier] was the breaking of the cycle of violence.''

Following the killing of 24 Pakistani UN troops by Somalis June 5, the US and UN escalated attacks on Aideed's forces, provoking a round of counterattacks. Eighteen US soldiers were killed in one such attack Oct. 3-4, and more than 200 Somalis were killed, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

CARE had curtailed its food distribution in Mogadishu before the violence erupted in June. It ``simply was not needed,'' Mr. Neff says. But the violence has ``hamstrung'' some of CARE's continuing rehabilitation programs in Mogadishu, he says, including supervision of sanitation and educational programs run by Somali and other private agencies.

Some agencies, including Save the Children/UK, maintained many of their non-Somali staff in the capital during the fighting. ``When we can't go out, we try to work in the office,'' says Save the Children official Richard Burge.

Relief work has continued in most other parts of South and Central Somalia as well, the area that was most affected by civil war and famine. But occasional violence, sometimes between rival clans and sub-clans, continues to make such work dangerous.

Seventeen Somalis were killed in inter-clan violence on Oct. 18 in Gelib, about 200 miles south of Mogadishu, says Bob Meredith of World Concern, which has several foreign relief workers based there. Two non-Somali employees of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) narrowly escaped attacks from armed Somalis in two other central Somali towns in early October. The UN reported Oct. 19 that Belgian troops in Gelib came under mortar and machine-gun fire on Oct. 18.

``You have one good week, then one bad week,'' says Keith Frausto, director of the Somalia program of IRC. The two IRC employees who were attacked were withdrawn from the area, he says.

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