Somali faction warns of US 'colonisation'

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The Independent Online
FIRST SIGNS of opposition to American intervention emerged in Somalia yesterday. The United Somali Congress, the most powerful of the military factions whose strife has destroyed civil order, spoke of the danger of 'new colonisation'.

It called for talks on the objectives and methods of the 28,000 US troops expected this week to police food aid distribution.

The statement, issued by Abdi Osman Farah, USC vice-chairman, represented a step back from last week's statement by the chairman, General Mohammed Farah Aideed, which welcomed the US plan unequivocally. Mr Abdi Farah told a press conference that, if the Americans did not consult the USC before they came, 'we are here to defend the interests of the Somali people'. He would not elaborate. So far Washington appears to have made only the vaguest contact. By Saturday the Americans had not informed the United Nations peacekeeping force in Somalia that they intended to intervene. 'We only heard about it on the radio,' said one senior UN officer.

There are growing fears that, unless the Americans talk to political leaders as well as well-connected Somalis and expatriates in Somalia, they will make unnecessary mistakes. Aid workers, who in general welcome protection for convoys, are critical of a simplistic 'shoot to feed' policy.

Mr Abdi Farah admitted that it was the Somalis' failure to agree that had led to foreign intervention, adding that security was at its worst. He called on the Americans to send a delegation to discuss their plans, and appealed to the USC, which split in November last year, to reunite and reforge the unity of Somalia.

He said people thirsted for 'proper leadership from their politicians'. He denied this was a reference to his chairman, General Aideed, but there have been rumours of new USC splits.

A convoy carrying some 400 tons of wheat and sorghum left Mogadishu port yesterday, the first for more than two weeks. The food was taken to the north of the city for sale and distribution after protracted negotiations to decide how it was to be divided.

Some 12,000 tons of food have been trapped in port warehouses for more than a month by a dispute between the two main factions controlling the city. It is hoped yesterday's convoy will mark the first step towards distributing food between those factions and will permit shipments to other areas facing starvation.

Inland, factions are still fighting around Baidoa, south-west of Mogadishu. Female foreign aid workers have been withdrawn after rumours of imminent fighting and looting. At Bardera, farther south, where 60 to 70 people die every day from starvation, fighting is preventing food distribution.

The Princess Royal, President of the Save the Children Fund, has backed the UN decision to send troops. Speaking on BBC radio yesterday, she said she thought the Somalis believed military intervention was the only way to control the factions. But she worried about the consequences for aid agencies of the UN mission.

What Washington can do, page 11