Black leaders seek expanded U.S. role

December 09, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- American black leaders, concerned that President Bush's objectives in Somalia are too limited, are calling for U.S. military forces to maintain order in the famine-stricken African country until an effective government can be established.

Randall Robinson, executive director of the lobbying organization TransAfrica, said at a news conference yesterday that if U.S. troops only open a food distribution network and then get out quickly, the operation will "do nothing more than [postpone] the disaster."

"I would hope that the American leadership has not drawn our objectives so narrowly," Mr. Robinson said.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said he urged Bill Clinton to broaden Mr. Bush's Somalia policy to help rebuild the nation once the immediate danger of starvation has been alleviated.

Talking to reporters following a meeting Mr. Clinton held with congressional leaders, Mr. Lewis said a U.S. presence "must be there much longer, that we must not only put out the fire, but we must rebuild the building. We must not only bring food and

medical assistance to the people of Somalia, but we must rebuild the infrastructure, help rebuild the country, and assist in organizing a stable government."

Mr. Robinson, joined by Somalia-born fashion model Iman, urged the administration to use its diplomatic leverage to convene a Somali peace conference to begin re-establishing effective leadership for the country, which has been without governmental authority since dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown early last year.

They said the conference should be attended by leaders of the country's often warring clans, militia leaders, intellectuals and representatives of the member nations of the U.N. Security Council.

The U.S.-led international force should remain in Somalia until the conference produces results, said Mr. Robinson, whose 15-year-old organization lobbied successfully for legislation imposing U.S. economic sanctions against the white minority government of South Africa over the objections of then-President Reagan.

Although Mr. Robinson said the international phase should be completed as soon as possible, he said it would be a mistake to impose a deadline on restoring the country.

Mr. Robinson and Mr. Lewis avoided direct criticism of Mr. Bush, but they left no doubt that they believe the United States must be involved in Somalia far longer than Mr. Bush envisions. In announcing the U.S. military intervention Friday, Mr. Bush said the mission "has a limited objective, to open the supply routes, to get the food moving, and to prepare the way for a U.N. peacekeeping force to keep it moving."

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