Pace of U.S. troops causing deadly cycle of Somalian looting, relief aides say

December 27, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The methodical pace of U.S intervention here has set off a counterproductive reaction of looting and killing in unoccupied areas that is spreading across the border into Kenya, relief officials said yesterday.

As U.S. Marines and other foreign troops in the United Nations-sponsored Joint Task Force take over more and more centers in the famine zone, Somalia's warring clans are withdrawing westward toward the Kenyan border.

Their pattern is to loot villages and farms as they go, a tactic that has now spread into large camps that shelter almost a half-million Somalis just across the Kenyan frontier, said Panos Moumtzis, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

"There have been 15 attacks by technicals [gunmen in pickup trucks or jeeps] in the last few days involving shooting and looting," Mr. Moumtzis said. "They have driven many of our relief workers away."

This is a characteristic of developments since the Marines landed in Mogadishu Dec. 9. Rather than risk confronting U.S. troops, marauding clans withdraw into unprotected areas and attack their fellow countrymen, usually with growing intensity as the Marines get nearer.

The problem is aggravated by the U.S. tactic of going from one key area to another, one at a time. After more than two weeks, two of the eight major target cities and towns remain unoccupied, as does most of the rural countryside.

The Marines argue that they are going as fast as they can under great difficulties. Marine Col. Fred Peck, the task force spokesman, says operations will grow in size and speed as more combat troops land. Only about 13,000 of the originally planned 28,000 U.S. troops are here.

The agony for the starving Somalis waiting for the Marines and relief shipments is particularly acute near Gailalassi, the next city targeted for intervention.

"There has been terrible looting in Gailalassi," said Farouk Mawlawi, a U.N. spokesman in Mogadishu. "There is no security. The situation is so bad that all relief agencies have been pulled out and won't go back until the troops come."

The Marines intend to enter the city today. If past patterns hold, the clans will pull back without opposition toward the last remaining target area, Belet Huen, where they will pillage the population until troops arrive there, probably tomorrow.

Plans call for the Marines to send patrols into rural areas, but distances are great, roads are terrible, and manpower is a problem.

"The United States says it will cover the border" with Kenya, Mr. Moumtzis said. "But they won't say when. I hope it will be soon; otherwise, we face a disaster."

But even if the Americans pacify most of the Somalian countryside, they have no mandate to cross into Kenya.

There, about 500,000 Somali refugees live in 16 camps near the frontier. The camps are in desert country, with no protection from the roving Somalians.

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