IN a deadly stare down with Somali warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, the United Nations has finally blinked.
The Security Council, voting unanimously on Tuesday to approve a US-sponsored resolution, officially ended a four-month UN manhunt for General Aideed, the faction leader accused of masterminding the killing of 24 Pakistani UN soldiers in early June. The United States called off its search last month after 18 US soldiers were killed in a gun battle with Aideed's militia.
But the resolution does more than end a manhunt. It marks a critical turning point in the international role in Somalia - a swing back to its original humanitarian aim.
With US and those of most other major nations planning to pull their troops out by March 31, UN military strength is rapidly declining. Without a mandate to pursue Aideed, there is little the United Nations can do militarily.
That is acceptable for some UN and US officials. They were never convinced that hot pursuit of Aideed made much sense. And few Somali or Western analysts had much hope that the outside world could reshape Somali politics at gunpoint.
Forced disarmament by the UN or the US appears to be a dead issue in Somalia. The US, which has done little to disarm Somalis since landing in Somalia 11 months ago, shows no signs of being willing to spend its final four-and-a-half months disarming factions, especially Aideed's.
US Special Envoy Robert Oakley, who arrived in Mogadishu Tuesday in an attempt to revive peace talks with Aideed's militia, did not mention disarmament to reporters in a recent briefing.
But the end of the UN hunt with Aideed is not likely to bring peace to Somalia soon, and the issue of voluntary disarmament is certain to be discussed in talks between the US and all factions.
Meanwhile, an outbreak of clan fighting along Somalia's southern coast over the past several months, and unresolved rivalries between Aideed and warlord Mohamed Ali Mahdi in Mogadishu, are likely to keep ethnic hatred simmering for a long time.
And one of the central issues of contention between the UN and Aideed, the June 5 killing of the Pakistanis, may not be quickly resolved despite the Council vote. The resolution calls for a commission of inquiry to be chosen by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
But Aideed has called for an ``independent'' commission to investigate the shootings, claiming the UN is not impartial.
Two versions of what happened on June 5 have emerged.
Pakistani troops were carrying out a supposedly routine inspection of an arms cache in Mogadishu that belonged to Aideed. The cache is located near a radio station Aideed was using to broadcast anti-UN remarks. The day of the inspection, according to Somalis and US officials in Mogadishu, the airwaves were full of accusations that the Pakistani troops were coming to shut down the station.
But no one told Brig. Gen. Ikram ul-Hassan, the Pakistani commander, that such propaganda was stirring emotions among Somalis in the area, many of whom were well-armed. In an interview, the General told the Monitor that no one had given him a translation of the Somali broadcasts, though the UN has numerous translators on its staff. If he had known, he would have sent a better-armed contingent to carry out the inspection, he said.
A Somali lawyer from a clan other than Aideed's recently met with the warlord and says Aideed has a video tape of the Pakistani arms inspection, allegedly showing Pakistanis firing first on Somalis who had gathered to watch the UN operation.
Angered by these killings, other Somalis gathered spontaneously - not on the orders of Aideed - and attacked the soldiers after they left the area, the attorney says. Aideed was said to be surprised at news of the attack, the Somali attorney said in an interview.
But according to the UN version, General Hassan's troops were ambushed by a militia after their inspection of the station. And on the same day, Pakistani soldiers were attacked, and some mutilated, at a center where they were delivering food relief. Aideed's forces have not come forth with a clear explanation of those killings.
An early study done for the UN by a consultant concluded that the killings near the arms cache were done by Aideed's fighters.
Meanwhile, periodic shootings by armed thugs, some of whom may be fighters aligned with various factions, keep tensions high in Mogadishu.