Mortars and wine in tale of two cities: Richard Dowden contrasts hope in Baidoa with the mayhem in Mogadishu

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IN THE town which was once known as the starvation capital of Somalia, they were partying yesterday. The local French UN troops laid on a colourful parade for Bastille Day followed by a lunch of French meat, cheese and wines for the local Somali elders and aid workers.

In Mogadishu, 80 miles away, it was another day of violence. Gunmen attacked several UN positions, including Mogadishu airport and the UN headquarters in the former American embassy. Snipers also fired on Italian UN troops at a checkpoint in the capital.

Earlier a UN military spokeswomen gave this briefing to journalists, reported by the Reuter news agency yesterday:

Mogadishu - 0015 Gunmen fired a mortar round at an Italian-manned checkpoint but it landed off target. No casualties reported on either side.

Mogadishu - 0130 Pakistani troops guarding the UN compound received automatic weapons fire and fired back. No casualties reported on either side.

Mogadishu - 0200 Tunisians guarding a defunct fruit factory close to the UN complex were fired at, as they have been nightly for the past three weeks. 'They fired shots and a 40mm grenade. They think they got the gunman,' said the spokeswoman.

Afmado (south of Mogadishu) - Belgian troops searched for arms on Tuesday. 'One Belgian was wounded. We are still waiting more information on that,' said the spokeswoman.

Merca (south of Mogadishu) - 0130 'A large number of Somalis attacked a UN strongpoint five miles west of Merca,' the spokeswoman said. 'We'll have more information on that and other incidents at this afternoon's briefing.'

'It is two different countries,' said an aid worker in Somalia last night. Speaking by satellite from Baidoa where once the commonest sight was starving children, Kevin Noone of the Irish aid agency Goal, said that the day had been spent partying.

'The wines and cheese were exquisite - straight from France,' said Mr Noone. 'The food was beautiful French cuisine. Then the French paraded through the town with the tricolour - there was a lot of pomp and ceremony as you would expect from the French - and then we were taken on a tour of their installations. Afterwards there was a football match. The Somalis who work for Goal beat the Red Crescent team two-nil.'

There is no longer any need for emergency feeding in the area, and the feeding centres where hundreds died of hunger last year are now orphanages of healthy children.

'The French have got everything in order,' said Mr Noone. 'It's very quiet, very relaxed, there's no hostility and the town has a lot of activity with trading starting up again. But the people in this area are really pushing for peace and the elders have come together and it's working.'

Just how different Mogadishu is was illustrated yesterday by another aid worker, Steve Rifkin of Save the Children Fund in Mogadishu. 'We are not moving outside the compound unless it's absolutely necessary,' he said.

In the capital only aid agencies who employ Somalis in executive positions are able to maintain their operations. Foreigners have been largely confined to their compounds since 5 June when 24 Pakistani troops were killed in an ambush. Monday's incident in which at least 50 Somalis were killed by US helicopter gunships, leading to the revenge murder of four journalists, has all but stopped humanitarian work.

'I think we have to find as a matter of urgency ways of putting humanitarian aspects of this operation firmly back in the forefront,' said Mr Rifkin.

UN FORCES IN SOMALIA

Australia *

Bangladesh 25

Belgium 979

Botswana 201

Canada *

Egypt 243

France 1090

Germany 274

Greece 100

India **

Italy 2408

Kuwait 108

Malaysia 254

Morocco 1340

New Zealand *

Nigeria 556

Norway 138

Pakistan 4718

Romania 130

Saudi Arabia 678

Sweden 144

Tunisia 143

Turkey 316

UAE 762

US 3963

Zimbabwe 442

*Force HQ 291

Total 19,303 *Counted in the Unosom HQ;

**Advance party - not counted

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