Attacks by UN risk turning Aideed into a Somali hero: Crackdown on forces of Mogadishu warlord may sow seeds of further conflict

THE crackdown on General Mohamed Farah Aideed and his militiamen by United Nations military forces in Mogadishu runs the risk of greatly expanding his popularity beyond its clan base and, if he is captured or killed, sowing the seeds for future conflict in Somalia.

Considered by many of the capital's residents as a murderous warlord before the launching of the US-led, UN Operation Restore Hope last December, Gen Aideed is capitalising on the current UN persecution to become the champion of Somali opposition to foreign occupation, according to some Somali analysts.

'Aideed becomes the most visible symbol of Somali resistance,' said Rakiya Omaar, Somali director of the London-based human rights group Africa Rights. 'Aideed is now standing for a lot more than a warlord and a very brutal one.'

Gen Aideed, a former ambassador to India, was instrumental in overthrowing the government of Mohamed Siad Barre in his role as military commander of the United Somali Congress, which represented the Hawiya clan now dominant in Mogadishu. He was widely expected to take power until a former restaurant owner and leader of the rival Abgal sub-clan of the Hawiya, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, attempted to preempt him.

That resulted in a civil war in Mogadishu that ripped apart the Hawiya down the lines of Mr Ali Mahdi's Abgal and Gen Aideed's Habir Gedir sub-clan, killed tens of thousands of people, and left the centre of the capital in ruins.

Unemployment, poverty and fear of retribution by rival clan factions, especially Siad Barre's Darod people, rallied hundreds of young Habir Gedir men around Gen Aideed.

Gen Aideed has remained hostile to the UN, which he feared would deprive him of power by taking over the country. His supporters staged an angry demonstration against the visit of the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in January. But he supported the US-led intervention from the outset, in part realising there was little he could do against such overwhelming firepower, and in part because the US forces carried out disarmament haphazardly. When the US forces handed over to the UN six weeks ago, Gen Aideed's radio station stepped up its anti-UN propaganda.

The main beneficiaries of this week's UN assault on Gen Aideed's forces were expected to be the other warlords, such as Mr Ali Mahdi and General Mohamed Siad Hersi Morgan, military leader of the Darod people, who have not yet been disarmed. It could also complicate future peace efforts. 'How can you have political reconciliation if not all the warlords are disarmed?' said Ms Omaar. 'It will be totally unbalanced.'

Should the drive against Gen Aideed be successful it could encourage his rivals to attack not only the remnants of his militia, but also to take retribution against civilians of his sub-clan. Besides Mr Ali Mahdi's Abgal, the Murarsade sub-clan of the Hawiya have continued to skirmish with Gen Aideed's fighters in the outskirts of Mogadishu.

Not surprisingly, supporters of Mr Ali Mahdi, who control most of northern Mogadishu, staged a pro- UN demonstration yesterday. Gen Morgan's forces have scored impressive gains in recent months, most spectacularly the capture of the southern port of Kismayu from Gen Aideed's ally Colonel Omar Jess in March despite the presence of Belgian and US forces in the area.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 22

(Photograph omitted)