United Nations forces content to let elusive Aidid become Somalia's Elvis

June 21, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- For a while last week, as America bombs rained down on Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid's enclave, the defiant warlord looked set to become Somalia's version of Saddam Hussein, thumbing his nose at the international forces ranged against him and making regular appearances on CNN.

But now that he has gone into hiding from United Nations forces seeking to arrest him, he is turning into Mogadishu's Elvis.

It is believed that Mr. Aidid has taken refuge somewhere in the city's rabbit warren of sandy streets and little stone houses after he was bombed out of his enclave last week.

Rumors are already flying of Aidid sightings: He was seen at a mosque attending Friday prayers; he was spotted in the Bokhara market surrounded by heavily armed henchmen; he is living in this neighborhood or in that area; he has been seen everywhere but is nowhere to be found.

"I recognize that we could have here an Elvis kind of thing for some time," said the U.N. special envoy, Adm. Jonathan Howe.

But there is no evidence of a massive U.N. manhunt to track him down, such as that the Americans launched for ousted #i Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

There are no U.N. troops actively searching for Mr. Aidid, U.N. officials say. Even if they were, it would be an impossible task. The streets are narrow and densely populated, offering an easy getaway for a fugitive who knows them far better than his pursuers. U.N. troops have not yet even resumed patrols of the southern sec tor of the city because it is considered too dangerous.

U.N. officials are now saying they are in no hurry to arrest Mr. Aidid because they do not want to cause continued disruptions to the relief effort to help Somalia's hungry.

"I don't want all the patrols out searching for General Aidid. I want them out providing food," Mr. Howe said.

Only a handful of U.N. peacekeepers showed up yesterday to escort food convoys to southern Mogadishu, slowing U.N. efforts to get its relief mission back on track.

Mr. Aidid is wanted by the U.N. on suspicion that he ordered a series of brutal ambushes that killed 23 Pakistani peacekeepers on June 5.

But by forcing him into hiding, the U.N. accomplishes its main goal of neutralizing his ability to disrupt the U.N.'s Somalia operation, U.N. officials say.

"If we happen to run into him at a checkpoint or if someone gives us good information about where he is, then we'll grab him," said one official.

Arresting him could even prove to be counterproductive, the official said.

"If we arrest him, we make him a martyr; as a fugitive, he is nothing," he said.

Mr. Aidid has been forced underground, is probably staying in a different location every night to avoid detection and is likely to be keeping word of his whereabouts consigned only to his most trusted friends, officials say.

This is going to make it difficult for him to rally the remnants of his defeated militia, which probably consisted of a core of no more than 500 men, officials say.

It is also going to make it virtually impossible for him to re-emerge as a public leader, holding press conferences, addressing rallies and touring hospitals as he did in the days before his power base was destroyed.

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