Howe urges UN to remain in Somalia: Latest US troop withdrawal raises fears of a return to famine and an attempt by Aideed to seize control

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The Independent Online
AS MORE European countries withdraw their troops from the United Nations peace-keeping force in Somalia, those concerned about the country's future are asking whether the remaining UN forces will be able to hold on there. If they cannot, some fear the country will descend into civil war, chaos and famine again.

Banditry and looting are on the increase as the Americans prepare to leave, although attacks on the UN forces have diminished. Eight UN troops have been killed since the Somali faction leader, General Mohammed Farah Aideed, declared a ceasefire in October.

The UN forces now remain in their bases, unwilling to patrol the streets or intervene in incidents. Ideas of disarmament and nation rebuilding, prevalent a year ago, have long gone. There have been reports of an increase in guns brandished openly on the streets of Mogadishu and outside the city militias have reappeared.

This week in New York Admiral Jonathan Howe, the UN Special Representative to Somalia, warned that if the UN abandons the country 'it will very quickly go back to where it was. The result I think will be famine, starvation and many people dying again'. He urged the UN to stay in Somalia at least until March 1995 to give time for a new provisional government to take control.

About 2,000 of the 8,000-strong American contingent have already left and another 1,000 will be gone by tomorrow. As expected, the main European countries with contingents in Somalia - France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Sweden - announced that they would pull out by 31 March, the same deadline given by the US. Turkey has also announced that its 300 troops will be withdrawn by the end of March. This leaves the Pakistani and Indian contingents bearing the brunt of the operation. Pakistan has also offered an extra two battalions which will bring its troop strength up from 5,000 to 7,500 out of a total UN force which is supposed to be 28,000.

Although General John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, this week denied that America was 'cutting and running', the sudden decision to pull out after 18 of its soldiers were killed in the battle of Mogadishu on 3 October has thrown the operation into doubt. Admiral Howe spoke of 'critical uncertainties' in the situation and said that the new policy was for 'Somali answers to Somali problems'.

There are fears that General Aideed will attack the weakened UN force as soon as the US leaves and seek to grab the whole country, or that he will seek revenge for Admiral Howe's attempts to kill or capture him between June and October this year.

One critical decision will be taken when the Security Council meets on 15 January to decide whether to continue the operation under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter - a peace enforcing operation - or to revert to Chapter 7 and make it a peace-keeping operation, only operating where there is a ceasefire. The UN has already decided to deploy fewer troops in Mogadishu and General Aideed's areas and more troops in peaceful areas where it can achieve more.

If the Security Council adopts a more conciliatory attitude to General Aideed and releases his eight top aides, which it has been detaining, another war between Aideed and the UN may be averted. It is understood that an independent jurist will be named soon whose task will be to provide legal arguments for releasing the men.

There is also a widespread assumption that the Somalis will revert to clan warfare as soon as the US leaves, but this view is not shared by Somalis. The main Somali clan wars had been over for nine months when the American Marines stormed ashore last December. Some Somalis now argue that there is such a widespread horror of returning to war that there are plenty of respected Somalis willing to negotiate peace agreements if war breaks out.

Although the recent UN-sponsored peace conference in Addis Ababa failed to produce agreement and all factions are busy rearming, they may decide to leave the country divided into spheres of influence rather than risk more fighting. Robert Oakley, the former US Special Envoy, said this week that he would bet on a 'rough and ready coexistence rather than return to all out civil war'.

(Photograph omitted)