Covey of Critics Raises Doubts About UN Role in Somalia

Its effectiveness diminished, mission may be doing harm

THE United Nations should pull out of Somalia to avoid wasting more money and making more politically dangerous mistakes, according to some United States diplomats, relief officials, and Somalis.

Many of those reviewing the UN record in Somalia are reluctantly arriving at this conclusion. They supported the original UN effort in Somalia to save lives at a time of famine, civil war, and anarchy.

And they are especially troubled over renewed fighting in recent months between Somali clans, which could provoke a civil war that might again result in famine. But most officials interviewed feel the UN presence may be doing more harm than good.

''We got food and medicines [distributed],'' a US diplomat said this week of the US and UN humanitarian program from mid-1992 to early 1993. ''So what's the last year been about?''

During mid-1993, the US and UN battled the militia of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed after accusing him of killing UN and US soldiers. The UN continues trying to forge more political pacts among rival clans, including General Aideed's.

But such UN-brokered negotiations are stirring up suspicion and friction among rival clans, says Stephen Tomlin, regional director of the International Medical Corps, a US-based charity operating in Somalia. ''Their [UN] negotiations lead to conflict people get killed,'' he contends.

And given the high cost of the UN mission in Somalia, Mr. Tomlin says the UN should ''call it a day and get out.''

Hilal Aden, a Somali who has worked on various peace efforts in Somalia, says the UN should go home since its troops are not disarming Somali factions. ''It's better they go now,'' he says. ''It's a waste of money and materials if they have no clear mandate on disarmament.''

Tomlin says initial, short-lived efforts at disarmament by the UN in 1993 compounded political unrest by concentrating on disarming Aideed's faction, whose militia later battled US and UN soldiers.

The UN Operation in Somalia appears almost to be working against relief groups today, says David Neff, CARE's director for Somalia. UNOSOM ''has a really low rating'' among relief groups, he adds.

He cites numerous examples where relief personnel have been denied seats on unfilled UN flights because of bureaucratic rules. One French relief group was refused seats in June out of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, during fighting between Somali clans. They were told to go back across town, through the contested zone, to UNOSOM headquarters to get papers approved for their evacuation, Mr. Neff says. The plane then left without them.

Despite the killing of a Somali CARE employee by UN troops firing at suspected snipers last November, CARE still maintains a $15 million program in Somalia. The program involves repair of irrigation canals, health care, literacy training for women, management training for Somali development groups, and vocational training for former fighters in the north, where there is relative stability.

Meanwhile, more details are emerging of alleged corruption by UN troops in Mogadishu and initial denials of problems by senior UNOSOM officials.

''Egyptians were selling vehicles [at the port]; Nigerian forces were selling passes into the [UN] compound; Pakistanis were caught leaving [Somalia] with crates of 'military' equipment, which turned out to be full of UNOSOM air conditioners and appliances,'' says Ken Menkhaus, a former UNOSOM official.

The UN official overseeing port security recently attempted to detail such scandals at a meeting with senior UNOSOM officials, Mr. Menkhaus says. But one senior official allegedly reprimanded the port official for criticizing Egyptian troops and denied there was a problem, he adds. Since then, however, Zimbabwean troops have replaced some Egyptian troops at the port.

Senior UNOSOM officials could not be reached for comment.

The US diplomat blames many of the UN operation's problems on some UNOSOM officials from the US and other countries who do not have ''a clue how things work in the field.'' The diplomat also criticizes UNOSOM's use of contracts of three to six months as not allowing time to get familiar with Somalia.

Neff says the UN will not learn lessons from the Somalia experience because UNOSOM officials have not been open to criticism or self-examination.

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