Third-World Peacekeepers Face Larger Role as US Quits Somalia
Lacking the big guns, developing countries will rely on diplomacy
BARDERA, SOMALIA — SITTING near a United Nations tank in front of a UN depot for relief food, Capt. Brewster Matome from the southern Africa state of Botswana reaches out and shakes hands with several young Somali boys.
``We respect the Somalis,'' he says later at the dusty, wind-blown Botswanan troop base just outside of town, which was one of the main feeding centers in central Somalia during the 1992 famine. ``We take them as they are, and we just treat them as our brothers.''
But such rapport between Somalis and African and Asian soldiers in the UN peacekeeping forces will be tested in coming weeks as the United States and other Western nations withdraw their forces by the end of March.
The remaining 5,000 US troops, in particular, ran into trouble with Somalis when they began launching large-scale offensives against rebel factions last summer. Last Monday, US Marines killed eight Somali citizens in a shootout while escorting a diplomatic convoy in the capital, Mogadishu.
Lacking the big guns of Western military forces, troops from developing countries will have to rely more on ``political and diplomatic initiatives,'' says Abbas Zaidi, Pakistan's diplomatic representative to Somalia. Pakistani troops, he adds, will not fire ``unless fired upon.''
Pakistani troops, the first to arrive in Somalia in 1992, were also the first foreign troops to suffer major casualties when 23 of their soldiers were killed last June. The UN blamed rebel forces of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed. The attack led to a UN military sweep for General Aideed and anti-American sentiments among many Somalis.
Another example of differences in approaches between the US and developing nations regarding Somalia became apparent when Maj. K. G. Haider, a Bangladeshi commander, disputed the US account of Monday's shootout. He said the first shots his troops noticed came from US troops who shot into an unarmed crowd. US officials say they were fired on first.
The shootout was the first serious clash between US and Somali forces since October, when 18 American soldiers died in a clash with Aideed's forces. But there has been a recent rash of bombing and other attacks on international relief compounds, including ones in Baidoa, Belet Uen, and Kismayu. Indian troops in Kismayu also came under fire on Tuesday.
Egypt, India, and Malaysia, among other nations, are likely to remain in Somalia after Western troops go home. Staying on is ``just too dangerous,'' Norwegian Defense Ministry political adviser Anne Roervik said on Tuesday.
The West's retreat is causing some resentment among developing countries, which see themselves taking on the high risk of peacekeeping in Somalia. Some even see the UN operations in Somalia as a proxy operation, with poor African and Asian troops in essence being hired with Western money - paid through the UN - to fight.
``Lots of people see it as unfair,'' Mr. Zaidi says. ``The various commanders [of other countries with troops staying] are saying if one white, Western nation could stay on,'' there would be less feelings of unfairness, he adds.
Zaidi says his troops receive $1,000 per man per month from the UN, or collectively about $800,000 a month. But he strongly denies money is the reason for staying. In fact, he says, there is ``tremendous opposition'' at home to Pakistan staying on in Somalia.
He says Pakistani troops are staying in Somalia because of historic ties: Pakistan supported Somalia's independence from Italy and Britain in the 1940s. He also calls the training opportunity for an ``incidental'' benefit.
But one Western military analyst says money is indeed an important motivator for developing nations, and questions whether it is a strong enough motivator for them to take risks. Money aside, without the sophisticated weaponry of the West, will the armies from the developing nations be forced to ``cave in ... give in on everything?'' he asks.
Zaidi says such weapons provided a big ``psychological deterrent'' to armed Somalis. The US also helped Pakistan and other countries by providing helicopters for quick response, and big C-130 intelligence-gathering spy planes over Mogadishu, he adds.
IN Bardera, Botswanan troops have been using a combination of force (mostly against robbers), patience, and personal rapport to maintain calm since their arrival last April.
Relaxing on his corner cot in a tented barracks, Botswanan Pvt. Rakital Seloiso complains that Somalia is too hot and dry. But, ``when you see them [Somalis] arguing, I become kind to them. I talk to them with friendliness. The result is ... there is no fighting.''
Unlike Aideed, Somali faction leaders here, and in many other parts of Somalia, would like UN troops to stay longer. ``They work very well,'' says Bardera's police chief Col. Gurhan Hersi, speaking of the Botswanan troops here.
A key to their success, Botswana officers say, is their neutral position regarding the often quarreling clans. ``If we see one clan is not represented [at a meeting with the Botswana officers], we go find the other,'' says Captain Matome.
When negotiating security or relief issues, the officers talk to a wide range of authorities, including elders and militia leaders. But they do not talk to everyone. ``We don't deal with hooligans,'' says Col. Ronald Owageng, head of the Botswana force here.