New gang lord of Mogadishu Somalia erupts: Left to their own devices, clans continue to make the worst of it.

December 18, 1996

U.S. MARINES went ashore in Somalia in 1992 to set up Operation Restore Hope, with a secret asset -- reservist Sgt. Hussein Aidid of Los Angeles, 30, who had lived in the U.S. since age 14, as interpreter and guide. That he was the third son of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, militia chief of the Habr-Gedir sub-clan of the Hawiye clan and boss of south Mogadishu, did not hurt.

After the United Nations declared General Aidid the problem and ordered his arrest, Sergeant Aidid was packed home. The U.S. went after the warlord, who killed Americans, humiliated the superpower and turned American public opinion against the operation, mission creep and ever sending American troops on ill-defined missions without exit route or date.

American troops departed, returning briefly in 1995 to protect the evacuation of the last U.N. troops. Somalis have been on their own since, their factional troubles ongoing, but with the starvation gone and the original humanitarian mission a success.

General Aidid did not mellow. In September 1995 he took international aid workers hostage. But his luck and savvy ran out. Last July he took a bullet during a firefight, dying a few days later. After his burial, hopes soared for accommodation, perhaps even making the land of eight million souls a nation once again. Nothing doing, said Aidid loyalists.

Sergeant Aidid returned from Los Angeles in mid-1995 to assume his responsibilities. He was "elected" by his father's lieutenants as "president" of Somalia, which no other faction thinks he is. The new American warlord kept the pot boiling, pretty much his gang against the rest. The latest shelling in Mogadishu and elsewhere with 135 dead and 900 wounded in five days is the fruit of his gains and the failure of the last mediation effort by Kenya's Daniel arap Moi.

All the chaos is in southern Somalia, a one-time Italian colony. The northern part, a former British protectorate, has not had these problems. Everything more or less works there. Its leaders say it seceded and is the Republic of Somaliland. Delegates at the capital of Hargeisa on Monday adopted a new flag. No one outside "Somaliland" may ever see it. The international community does not recognize the sovereignty of the part of Somalia that governs and feeds itself and keeps the peace.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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