Inquiry urged into UN deaths

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THE United States has proposed setting up an independent commission to investigate violence during the UN mission in Somalia and determine who is responsible. Diplomats said the US ambassador, Madeleine Albright, told the Security Council yesterday that the initiative had been discussed with President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.

The proposal was apparently designed to answer criticisms that UN investigations into attacks on UN forces which have blamed the Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed were not independent.

When Jonathan Howe, the retired US admiral heading the UN operation in Somalia, visited Washington two weeks ago, the UN official with him was not allowed into most of the meetings because he was not a US citizen and did not have security clearance. In Somalia, the US Ranger battalion, whose losses on Sunday provoked the present crisis, has always been under American and not UN command.

Even though the US formally transferred control of operations in Somalia to the UN in early May it has, in practice, largely remained in command. The US nominated Admiral Howe as the UN envoy and Major-General Thomas Montgomery has control of military operations. Yet over the past week the White House, Congress and the media have all implied that American casualties are a consequence of making US interests too subordinate to UN policies.

In his nationally televised speech on Thursday, President Clinton said, with heavy emphasis, that the 1,700 fresh US troops being sent to Somalia 'will be under American command'. A few hours earlier Democratic Senator Paul Simon said: 'The majority of American casualties have been because of our obsession with seizing (Somali warlord Mohamed Farah) Aideed on behalf of the UN.'

A side-effect of the crisis in Somalia is that it is discrediting participation in UN operations in general in American eyes. A private vendetta by the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, against General Aideed is blamed for military setbacks. The New York Times yesterday said 'the major powers have urged a reversion to less confrontational policies. But the Secretary-General won't back down.'

Much of this is simply blame-shifting. It is convenient for President Clinton to imply that the US was somehow diverted by the UN from its original humanitarian purposes into fighting a brush-fire war.