UN Somalia effort crumbles amid raids and bickering: As troops refuse orders and a top official demands the sacking of the Italian general in command, Richard Dowden traces how the peace-keepers in Mogadishu have turned into an occupying army

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED Nations peace- keeping operation in Somalia was in disarray last night. The organisation's peace-keeping head was insisting that the Italian commander in Somalia be withdrawn while three other countries with troops there were refusing to accept orders from the UN command.

Beniamino Andreatta, the Italian Foreign Minister, said he was horrified when Kofi Annan, head of UN peace-keeping operations in New York, demanded that the Italian commander, General Bruno Loi, should go. The Foreign Minister objected to the way the announcement had been made 'in the tones of an ultimatum and in public'.

There is now a fundamental disagreement over the UN's role in Somalia. The US is fighting a tit-for- tat war in its attempt to arrest or kill General Mohamed Farah Aideed. The Italians and others are demanding that the UN gets back to its original purpose of protecting humanitarian relief.

The Italians want more say in the policy of the operation, and the commanders of three Muslim countries - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan - have been referring UN orders back to their governments instead of carrying them out.

For several weeks now, the UN forces on the ground in Mogadishu have been confined to heavily fortified bases, sniped at by gunmen. Monday's gunship attack on General Aideed's command centre, which left at least 50 people dead and led to the revenge killings of four foreign journalists, has so infuriated local Somalis that the UN force has virtually been turned into an occupying army fighting an urban guerrilla war.

Aid agencies complain that US policy has made it too dangerous to work in Mogadishu for the first time in Somalia's civil war. The original purpose - to protect food aid for the starving - has almost been lost, but by going into the capital with such force last December, the Americans filled a power vacuum that may make it impossible for them to leave for a long time.

It also drew them into confrontation with General Aideed, but their blundering efforts to kill him have brought about the deaths of scores of Somali civilians. This is turning the general into a hero and setting people against the UN.

There is no doubt that General Aideed has been the main block to political progress. He leads one of the 15 factions which agreed to a ceasefire and disarmament at the March peace conference in Addis Ababa. Instead of disarming, however, his forces began to attack the UN, culminating in the deaths of 24 Pakistanis on 5 June.

The UN plan is that the 15 clan factions should share power and there should be elections next year, but the general insists on holding on to territory and status won through war. When UN troops tried to take it from him he fought back.

The only hope the UN had was to try to isolate him politically and force him to disarm through pressure from all the other Somali groups. Instead the Americans chose the path of excluding him and defeating him by might. It would not be the first time that the US has boosted a weak politician by trying to destroy him.