Somali warlord does U-turn on US troops

AFTER objecting strongly on Wednesday to the deployment of 2,400 US Marines off the coast of Somalia, a spokesman for General Mohamed Farah Aideed, one of the two most powerful warlords in southern Somalia, yesterday did an about-turn and accepted the presence of the troops.

The US Navy this week announced it was sending 2,100 Marines to Somali territorial waters, saying they would provide logistical support for US military planes airlifting UN troops to Mogadishu.

Lieutenant-Commander Bruce Cole said the Marines would 'provide seaborne command and control for the US airlift operation bringing a Pakistani infantry battalion to Mogadishu to prevent looting'. Loss of food to armed gangs has plagued efforts to bring relief to the 2 million Somalis facing starvation.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday that the naval readiness amphibious group of four warships, led by the assault ship Tarawa, had been ordered to Somalia from Kuwait. It said there were 2,400 Marines on the ships, which have helicopters for search-and-rescue operations. The ships arrived off Somalia yesterday.

Sixty-six UN troops have already arrived in Mogadishu from Pakistan, with 500 to be in place by the end of the month, their commander, Brigadier- General Imtiaz Shaheen, said yesterday. The UN Security Council has agreed to send a further 3,000 troops.

General Aideed has agreed to the deployment of the 500, who are expected to secure the port and airport for delivery of food and medicines, but he has resisted the plan for an additional 3,000 troops.

The US moves have obviously raised the question of how far Washington is prepared to involve itself in peace-keeping on the ground in Somalia. A State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said on Wednesday: 'The United States is not going to intervene in support of any faction in Somalia, nor do we intend to become Somalia's policemen. Our role continues to be to support the UN's efforts to promote dialogue and reconciliation.'

Abdul Karim Ahmed Ali, the secretary-general of the United Somali Congress (USC) faction loyal to General Aideed, said his fears about the US plan were allayed after he heard the UN special envoy for Somalia, Mohamed Sahnoun, say in a radio interview that the American naval task force was unrelated to UN efforts in Somalia and represented normal support for operations involving the US military.

'We have no objection to their presence. We feel it's not bad,' Abdul Karim said, reiterating the USC position that it would not stand for foreign intervention in Somali affairs. 'We doubt that the US would do that,' he said.

General Aideed controls Mogadishu's south, and has loose and uneven control of much of southern Somalia. Issa Mohamed, the 'foreign secretary' of the USC, said yesterday that further troops could be acceptable to the USC 'provided that the UN first honours its promise to us to provide food and uniforms for a 6,000-strong Somali police force'. He said the policemen would be drawn from all clan factions. After the overthrow of the Siad Barre dictatorship in January 1991, Somalia collapsed into factional fighting among the groups who combined to oust the former president.

The self-declared president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, General Aideed's bitter rival, who controls the north of Mogadishu, yesterday accused his enemy of violating the UN-brokered truce agreed in Mogadishu in March and killing 120 civilians from his own Abgal clan last week.

On Wednesday two mortar bombs, apparently fired from across the 'green line' in Ali Mahdi's northern stronghold, blasted houses in the south, killing three civilians and wounding five others, UN officers said.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme added two new villages - Uegit, 180 miles north-west of Mogadishu, and Sacowein, 186 miles to the west - to its airlift of food to Somalia, bringing to seven the number of places it services. Since Sunday, the agency has been airdropping food to smaller villages that are inaccessible by any other means.

Since the US airlift of food began on 21 August, US planes have brought more than 3,000 tons of food to Somalia

NAIROBI - The UN will start relief flights to 20 destinations in southern Sudan and the besieged city of Juba, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Eliasson, said after talks with President Omar Hassan el Beshir and the rebel SPLA, AFP reports.

(Photograph omitted)

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