U.N. forces' arrival in Somalia could stir trouble

September 09, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The United Nations' latest mission in Somalia has started running into trouble, though it has barely begun.

The U.N., strongly criticized for withdrawing its aid organizations from Somalia last year, now is preparing to send up to 3,500 troops into the country to protect relief supplies urgently needed by famine victims.

Most ordinary Somalis, weary of war and hunger, would welcome any force that can rescue them from the tyranny of gunmen controlling the streets and back roads.

But the armed groups stand to lose heavily if any semblance of order is restored. Thus, U.N. officials fear the 500 troops scheduled to be deployed at Mogadishu's port this month could become targets of an anti-U.N., anti-Western campaign.

On Aug. 28, two of 50 unarmed U.N. observers sent in July to monitor the shaky cease-fire between the main protagonists were shot and wounded near the port in what U.N. officials called an ambush.

U.N. sources believe the Suleiman clan, a small but powerful group that controls the port, was responsible for the attack. The clan would lose kickbacks, money and influence if U.N. soldiers are deployed there as planned.

Most of the food currently reaching Mogadishu arrives through the port. About half disappears before reaching the hungry people for whom it is intended.

Dozens of shadowy armed groups and clans stand to lose if order is restored, the officials say.

Hundreds of gunmen are employed by relief agencies as security guards, and risk losing their jobs if the situation improves. Many other groups are profiting handsomely from the chaos by trading in drugs, guns and looted relief supplies.

The U.N.'s special envoy to Somalia, Mohammed Sahnoun, clearly is worried about the forthcoming deployment of U.N. forces. "The last thing I would like to see is that we are the cause of some new fighting by trying to force ourselves into the Somali situation," he said. "It's a very hostile environment and people are ready to die."

The 500 troops, once scheduled to arrive in early September, now aren't expected until the end of the month. U.N. officials blame logistical problems, but Western relief agencies in Mogadishu suspect that concerns about the troops' safety are holding up their arrival.

Mr. Sahnoun's next task is to negotiate with the major factions for the deployment of an extra 3,000 U.N. troops called for by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

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