U.N. is changing strategy in Somalia, official says Ways to make warlord opt for exile sought

September 29, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- Under heavy U.S. pressure to scale back military operations in Somalia, the United Nations is looking for ways that warlord Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid can be lured into exile in a neighboring country, a senior U.N. official said last night.

The new plan marks a shift in strategy from the United Nations' determined efforts to capture General Aidid and put him on trial for the ambush killings of a number of peacekeeping troops.

It follows a drumbeat of pressure from Washington for a greater emphasis on reaching a political solution and drawing less attention to military operations that have alarmed Congress and the U.S. public.

President Clinton escalated the pressure publicly yesterday, saying at the White House that the United States and other countries contributing forces to the mission need to have a clear idea of when they can withdraw their forces.

"There has to be a political strategy that puts the affairs of Somalia back into the hands of Somalis and gives every country, not just the United States . . . that comes into that operation a sense that they're rotating in and out," he said.

Before meeting congressional leaders, he went on to say: "We were not asked to go to Somalia to establish a protectorate, or a trust relationship or to run the country. That's not what we went for."

Yesterday the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for limits on the Somalia mission, threatening an aid cutoff if limits weren't forthcoming.

Senior U.S. officials said the United States plans to reduce its commitment by 1,500 troops as soon as other countries agree to replace them.

The withdrawal could be hastened further by an arrangement that gets General Aidid out of the country.

With him gone and his supporters agreeing to cease hostilities against U.N. troops, the need for the recently deployed U.S. Rangers and Delta Force troops would diminish, the senior U.N. official said.

U.N. officials can't publicly call for General Aidid to accept exile or -- the second option under consideration -- house arrest outside Mogadishu, since they are currently operating under a Security Council resolution demanding that those responsible for the killing of U.N. personnel be captured and tried.

But the senior official made clear that the United Nations would welcome efforts by Horn of Africa countries or other third parties to negotiate a way out for the warlord.

"We're not offering a carrot of exile in Ethiopia. Let's say third parties are talking to him about leaving," the official said.

If this were to happen, the Security Council would somehow have to finesse its previous resolutions aimed at General Aidid. It would pose "legal complications and issues," the official said.

For General Aidid, accepting such a plan would mean he would no longer have to fear being captured and put on trial for his alleged role in the deaths of U.N. soldiers.

The official said the United Nations still is not directly negotiating with General Aidid, but that it has been talking all along with members of his clan.

The new U.N. tack could have long-term political consequences, since it would diminish the world body's zeal for punishing killers of U.N. soldiers.

But with the U.S. public getting fed up with the Somalian operation and congressional opposition growing, the United Nations now sees little choice but to shift its strategy.

In recent days, top U.S. officials have warned key aides of U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that the growing domestic opposition could have an impact on U.S. involvement in peacekeeping as a whole.

Mr. Clinton has already spelled out stiff conditions for the deployment of U.S. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, and U.S. officials are seeking to have those same conditions -- particularly an exit strategy -- applied to the U.S. participation in Somalia, the official said.

While the United States has not threatened a unilateral withdrawal, U.N. officials have been left with the impression that this could be the end result.

The U.N. official noted that it was the United States that initially convinced other nations to send troops to Somalia. If U.S. troops pull out now, others would follow and the operation could "unravel or be considerably weakened," he said.

But with General Aidid still in command of armed urban guerrillas in south Mogadishu, he remains the single greatest impediment to the political rebuilding of the ravaged country, the official said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations plans to raise the profile of its efforts to foster political reconciliation in the country and shift attention away from its military efforts.

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