AS a possible showdown looms here over US plans to put troops back onto the main streets of Mogadishu, a number of Somalis and non-US diplomats are making fresh efforts behind the scene to bring long-term peace to this country.
They include a member of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed's clan, who was recently kidnapped by his own family, but has regained some freedom; a Somali attorney once held in solitary confinement under a previous regime; and diplomats from Ethiopia and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
Though these would-be peacemakers are working separately, most of them express a common goal: to build up such overwhelming Somali civilian support for peace, especially among traditional leaders, or elders, that the military leaders will agree to stop fighting each other.
Public support for their efforts appears to be growing, though no one expects a quick capitulation by the military leaders.
``Somalia needs all tribes [clans] at the table to negotiate,'' says Kamel Gazzaz, PLO ambassador to Somalia. ``If elders decide something, all of Somalia will accept.'' He says even military leaders would be obliged to accept a peace settlement widely agreed upon by the nation's elders.
Among issues being discussed by the various peacemakers are disarmament, formation of a national police force, possible joint police-US (or UN) military patrols here, and establishment of a national government. Somalis have to ``stop the military guys from dominating the [peace] process,'' says a US official, noting however, that such a shift might take ``two to three years.''
THE United States, led by Special Envoy Robert Oakley, began talks last week with clan elders and aides to both General Aideed and his main rival, Mohamed Ali Mahdi.
But peacemaking in Somalia can be dangerous, as shown by a shootout here Oct. 25 in which a number of Somalis were killed. The shooting, between militiamen of Aideed and Mr. Ali Mahdi, came as participants at the end of a peace conference attempted to walk across the so-called ``green line,'' which divides the territory in the city held by the two men. Aideed and Ali Mahdi were clearly trying to torpedo the peace effort because the participants had not included either man in their talks.
One of the leaders of the talks, Ahmed Rhage, a member of Aideed's Habar-Gedir sub-clan, was kidnapped temporarily at the time of the talks, apparently by members of his own family who support Aideed. Two other participants also were apparently kidnapped, Somali sources say, and several others were shot and wounded by members of rival clans.
Another member of the Rhage-led peace group, Hassan Mohamed Mohamed, claims more and more people are ``coming to our side. This is the first time Habar-Gedirs are saying: `No, we don't believe in this man [Aideed],' '' he says.
While others are trying to isolate Aideed and Mahdi, Somali attorney Yusuf Oman al-Azhari, of the Darod clan, has been meeting privately, and separately, with the two warlords.
The two rivals do not trust each other, says Dr. Azhari, who was held in solitary confinement for several years by former Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. But both Aideed and Ali Mahdi asked him to continue his mediating efforts, Azhari says.
One of the most immediate issues is Aideed's growing resistance to US plans to put troops back onto the main streets. President Clinton said Nov. 7 in a television interview in the US that ``our young soldiers cannot be expected to just hunker down and stay behind walls. It almost puts them at greater risk.''
But Aideed told reporters here Sunday: ``Painful memories of US massacres are still fresh in the Somali people. The US government will bear the full responsibility'' for any conflicts that arise from new troop deployments. Aideed also said he would not send his representatives to any future security committee meetings with the United Nations.