Bonn beset by Somalia: Arguments rage about sending troops to join UN forces

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The Independent Online
THE LATEST batch of German United Nations troops arrived in Somalia yesterday, amid complaints that the action should be halted. The German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, rejected the criticism and talked of the need for a united Germany to grow 'step by step into its new international responsibilities'.

In Potsdam, on his first visit to troops in eastern Germany, Mr Kohl said: 'The world community rightly awaits from a united Germany an unlimited participation in the tasks and actions of the United Nations. These can also include military measures.' The Defence Minister, Volker Ruhe, saw 200 blue-berets off at Cologne military airport at dawn yesterday, and emphasised the importance of the role that they would now play.

In the next few weeks, 1,700 German troops are due to arrive in Somalia. Almost all of them will be based at Belet Huen, in the north of Somalia, officially described as 'quiet'. A small number will stay in the capital, Mogadishu.

German participation in UN operations continues to be fraught with domestic difficulties. The government emphasises the need for the German presence in UN operations. The Social Democrat opposition, however (and, to a lesser extent, the Free Democrats, the junior coalition partner), have been unenthusiastic.

Partly that is because of worries about history repeating itself: the Social Democrats talk ominously of soldiers being sent to war again 'from German soil'. Partly it is a question of lives being endangered.

The main body of German troops - a small advance party has been in Belet Huen for several months - will continue to be involved in back-up and supply for the UN operation, and will not expect to be involved in 'frontline' peace enforcement work.

The question of German troops going abroad for the UN has faced constitutional challenges at every turn. Last month, after being asked to rule on the question of troops in Somalia, the constitutional court finally lost patience and threw the ball back into the politicians' court. Parliament - including many Social Democrats, despite the legal challenge they had put forward - duly voted in favour.

Even now, however, the opposition is still unhappy. Gunter Verheugen, a leading member of the Social Democrats, complained yesterday that the government had been hiding 'the true nature of the operation in Somalia' since the beginning.

Germany's official eagerness to become more involved in UN operations - what the opposition irritably describes as 'salami tactics', as each operation comes a little closer to the much-denied military involvement - is partly a reflection of Germany's desire to be seen as a fully-fledged member of the international community, after so many decades when West Germany found itself suspended in de facto neutrality.

Germany is also keen to please the UN by offering troops in order to strengthen its case for a permanent seat on an expanded Security Council.

The UN is short of money and troops, and feels that Europe's most powerful and wealthiest country should play a more active role in UN operations.

German officials worry aloud, however, that whenever Germany does begin to play an active role, its neighbours (including Britain) start tut- tutting about Germany throwing its weight around.

(Photograph omitted)