US Somalia Pullout Seen Leading the Way To UN Withdrawal

TWO years after an international rescue operation began in response to war-related famine in Somalia, the world is starting to bid the country farewell.

The famine is over. But Somali militia leaders continue to fight each other in a power struggle that is now in its fourth year.

And with no political settlement in sight, the United States has decided to pull all remaining personnel out of Somalia by mid-September, citing costs and danger as well as the lack of political progress as reasons.

The move - which involves no troops, since the last US soldiers left in March - is being welcomed by other Western nations.

Somalia is ``a treadmill and a quagmire,'' says Lawry Herron, Australian high commissioner here. ``There has to be an end point.''

Other diplomatic sources say the US decision has prompted Australian officials to declare that it is now time to withdraw their own troops from Somalia. Although Australia has only about 50 soldiers in Somalia, they provide key logistical support at the airport in Mogadishu, the capital.

Italy has also expressed support and understanding for the US decision, according to the same diplomatic sources. Italy withdrew its troops earlier this year, but still has some police trainers in Somalia. Italian officials are complaining about the money they have spent there.

US diplomats say the US pullout is likely to speed up international disengagement from Somalia. The withdrawal is likely to ``pull the plug'' on the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), speeding up their troop withdrawals, says one US diplomat.

The UN mandate in Somalia expires Sept. 30; extensions must be approved by the Security Council. But with the US paying 30 percent of UNOSOM's bills, there will be strong pressure not to extend the mandate, especially if other nations are beginning to throw in the towel.

Another US official, Daniel Simpson, who is the US special envoy to Somalia, says the world does seem to be saying goodbye to Somalia.

``They [Somalia] had their moment in the sun,'' Mr. Simpson told the Monitor by telephone yesterday from Mogadishu. ``The world came here to help them tackle their problems.'' But, he says, there is ``an absence of any evidence'' of a political solution to Somalia's clan wars.

``Maybe they can do it [reach political agreement] easier without the foreigners,'' he adds.

For at least the next eight to 10 months, the US will continue to finance various aid programs in Somalia, a US diplomat says.

One relief official operating in Somalia sees the pullback from the country as a case of Western nations simply losing interest.

All the justifications for a pullout - cost, security, lack of political settlement - ``have been valid for a long time,'' says Nacho Burrull, who heads the Somalia relief work for the Spanish branch of Doctors Without Borders.

``In the beginning [1992], it was very trendy to be there to show the strength of the international community,'' he suggests. ``After a while, it wasn't fashionable any longer. There was no more TV coverage, so everyone lost interest.''

US famine relief to Somalia began with an airlift from Kenya in mid-1992. It was followed by the arrival of US and other troops in early December that year.

Famine had raged in central Somalia during 1991 and 1992, mostly as the result of clan wars following the fall of the longtime Somali dictator, Maj. Gen. Muhammad Siad Barre, in January 1991.

US troops, never officially under UN command, stayed on after the famine was over and joined the UN pursuit of Somalia militia leader Gen. Muhammad Farah Aideed, accused of killing 24 UN Pakistani soldiers last year. The hunt failed; General Aideed still holds sway over large chunks of central Somalia and continues to fight his opponents.

Somalis are heavily armed in Mogadishu and some towns, and UN troops are unwilling to engage in disarmament. Relief officials are concerned that the political instability that led to US and UN intervention is reappearing.

Most private-relief officials contacted say they might have to shut down their operations in Somalia if all UN troops pull out.

``If the UN leaves, I think it will be devastating for [relief] activity there,'' says Susan L. Hahn, director of the East Africa regional office for Catholic Relief Services, a US charity operating in Somalia. The troops ``provide a deterrent and escorts'' to safeguard against bandits, she says.

``Without UNOSOM ... the war will start again; starvation will start again; looters will increase,'' says Ibrahim, a Somali interviewed last week in Baidoa Somalia.

Some relief officials say they can still operate by hiring local guards. But a US diplomat says hired guards would ``perpetuate a model of coercion and intimidation and force - and you [relief agencies] become a part of it.''

If UN troops begin withdrawing, US and relief officials are concerned about how UN and relief personnel will be able to leave Somalia safely without stirring additional violent attacks on them.

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