Somalia: Unease as the warlords wait for the Marines: Two countries torn apart by civil war, two crises for humanity, both crying out for the world to intervene

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The Independent Online
'THIS is Care 9. Affirm it's now or nothing. Unless I'm given clearance now, I'm going to close the container port. Over.'

The clipped orders of Rhodri Wynn-Pope, a former major in the Grenadier Guards, now team leader of Care in Southern Somalia, ended a day which had begun in hope as Mogadishu awaited the arrival of an international force, led by 28,000 American troops under United Nations auspices, ordered by President Bush to speed food to the victims of the country's wars and drought.

For the first time since 11 November, food was to be moved out of Mogadishu port. Written agreement had been secured from the two factions which dominate Mogadishu. In a warehouse as big as a football pitch lie 12,000 tons of food. Although it has been there for more than a month and the roof is pierced by shell holes, the food is in good condition and yesterday some 400 tons was loaded on trucks and taken to the port.

Throughout a long hot afternoon by the quayside, Mr Wynn-Pope negotiated over short-wave radio to move it out of the docks, across the demilitarised zone and into the northern sector - a journey of about 10 minutes. But the contact person in the northern sector said that the forces of Ali Mahdi, who dominates the sector, could not guarantee its safety today. No one seemed to know why.

The port has been closed since a shell, fired from somewhere in the north of the city, hit a ship delivering relief food on 24 November. That was also the last time anyone tried to move food by road inland because on that day a complete convoy was looted at Baidoa.

These are the sorts of problems that the US Marines are supposed to sort out when they arrive. They are expected to take over the port and airport and establish bases for food distribution. But no one knows how the Marines will handle the gunmen. Aid workers are alarmed at the language being used in Washington and the apparent absence of consultation with them or Somalis about how the force should behave when it arrives.

The United Nations peacekeeping force (Unosom) has already been marginalised and its staff have been left waiting for orders with no clear idea of how they are expected to co-operate with the Americans.

A senior officer in Unosom, speaking on condition that he was not quoted by name, said that the force had only heard about the plan on the radio. The only other communication they had received was a faxed copy of the security council resolution.' We feel vulnerable,' he said.

The Unosom force of 500 Pakistani soldiers and 50 unarmed military observers from 10 countries have a presence at Mogadishu airport and have secured several houses near it since they arrived in August but have not ventured futher into the city.

(Photographs omitted)