Former envoy criticises UN actions in Somalia

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MOHAMED SAHNOUN, a former UN special envoy to Somalia, yesterday criticised the United Nations' actions in Mogadishu, saying that US-led attacks on the Somali capital and an incident in which Pakistani peace-keepers opened fire on a crowd of protesters undermined the peace-keeping mission and raised questions about UN missions elsewhere.

'Peace-keepers elsewhere might encounter similar situations and they should reassess their methods . . . It is particularly important for the UN to reassess its role, especially in terms of strategic policy-making. At the moment its management is faulty,' said Mr Sahnoun, who was in London to attend a conference on Africa.

Saying it was 'really unbelievable' that the massacre of 23 Pakistani troops on 5 June - the event that triggered the recent wave of violence - could have been allowed to take place, Mr Sahnoun said the incident pointed to a complete lack of political and military intelligence capabilities. The killings demanded an investigation, not retribution.

Mr Sahnoun, an Algerian diplomat who favoured diplomatic contacts over military intervention, had criticised the UN's performance in Somalia during his tenure. His removal last October was widely seen as a blow to the UN's reputation. His latest remarks come at a time when UN missions in Somalia and Bosnia have been marred by political humiliations and local resistance.

Washington blamed forces loyal to General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the Somali warlord, for the attack on the Pakistani troops and launched a series of devastating air raids against his strongholds. The air strikes in turn led to protests against the UN on Sunday, during which Pakistani peace-keepers opened fire into a crowd, killing 20 civilians.

President Bill Clinton yesterday defended the US air raids as 'appropriate action' but called on the UN to make sure that Sunday's killing of Somali demonstrators by the Pakistani troops was not repeated. The call may be too late to reverse the damage.

'There is a total divorce between the UN and Somalis and what is needed is to re-establish trust,' said Mr Sahnoun. 'The perception in Somalia is that the UN is a force of occupation and that there is a hidden agenda to make Somalia a UN trusteeship.'

The UN's first mistake, he said, was to enhance the Somali warlords' political prestige. The UN, with Washington's guidance, tried to turn the warlords into political leaders but as little was done to destroy their arsenals, power came from their weapons.

Mr Sahnoun also questioned the wisdom of a crackdown on just one warlord. 'You cannot dissolve one faction and leave another armed to the teeth,' he said, because it would establish a situation where stronger clans would attack weaker clans, possibly restarting the civil war.

Already Ali Mahdi Mohamed, Somalia's self-declared President and Gen Aideed's arch-rival, is barely able to conceal his pleasure at his enemy's discomfort. Yesterday he backed the UN crackdown and called for Gen Aideed's arrest.