Boutros-Ghali under fire from all sides

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THE UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who was stoned and jeered on his visit to Mogadishu, may have more trouble in store as he tries to persuade the US to keep its forces in Somalia for the foreseeable future.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's moral authority as the world's foremost diplomat has been severely shaken by hostile public demonstrations in both Sarajevo and Mogadishu in recent days and by an increasing readiness of public figures to criticise him. The last time a secretary- general was so humiliated was during the US hostage crisis in Tehran, when the then secretary- general, Kurt Waldheim, had to be evacuated by helicopter after he was attacked by a crowd.

The steep decline in Mr Boutros-Ghali's public image has been put down to the dramatic increase in responsibilities the UN has inherited in recent years, without any increase in power or resources. With his abrasive style of leadership, the UN Secretary- General has become a lightning- rod for criticism for problems created by poor political leadership in the Security Council.

Even as he opened a preparatory peace conference on Somalia in Addis Ababa yesterday, the prospect of an early withdrawal of the US-led forces in Somalia loomed. The US Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, went on record to deny that US forces would be replaced in Somalia by 20 January by a new UN peace-keeping mission headed by a Muslim general, but tension with the UN over the phasing out of Operation Restore Hope is expected to build none the less.

UN efforts to get the US to deploy nationwide and to disarm the Somali warlords have been unsuccessful to date and Mr Boutros- Ghali may clash with the incoming Clinton administration over the date of departure for the US forces. Though they now number more than 20,000, the US troops have not yet deployed in the north-west of the country, because it is ostensibly the new independent state of Somaliland. Likewise the US has not deployed in the north-east because of fears of stirring up Muslim fundamentalists.

'There have been some inefficient efforts to disarm the factions, but many armed gunmen have gone to the north where they are out of reach of the US,' said a diplomat with interests in Somalia. 'If the US packs up and leaves, the gunmen will return and the UN will be left to deal with the mess.'

Senior UN sources are confident that the US will be compelled to stay in Somalia long after the generals would like to be out of the country, if only because the UN is unlikely to be in a position to install a properly equipped peace-keeping force for several months at the earliest.

The Council's resolution 794, which cleared the way for the US- led intervention force, left it up to Mr Boutros-Ghali to determine when there was a 'secure environment' in the country - a signal that Operation Provide Comfort could be wound down - and the lightly armed UN peace-keeping force put in place.

(Photograph omitted)

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