UN and US 'rejected Aideed ceasefire offer'

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The Independent Online
A CEASEFIRE offered by General Mohamed Farah Aideed at the beginning of September was turned down by the United Nations special representative in Somalia, the retired admiral, Jonathan Howe, and the US military, according to John Drysdale, the British former political adviser to Admiral Howe.

An agreement worked out by Mr Drysdale and Lassane Kouyate, Admiral Howe's deputy, with representatives of General Aideed's Somali National Movement over six weeks of negotiations is exactly what the UN has now agreed to, more than 1,000 casualties later. The Red Cross estimates that between 200 and 300 Somalis were killed in the pitched battle with US rangers on 3 October, and more than 700, a third of them women and children, were wounded.

Mr Drysdale, a veteran Somali expert, cut short his contract with the UN, frustrated at having his advice ignored by Admiral Howe and his attempts to make peace between General Aideed and the UN thwarted. He said that on 3 September Mr Kayoute and he drew up a memorandum for the Somali National Army and the UN to sign, agreeing to a joint ceasefire. The only condition imposed by the SNA was that the UN make a public statement that it would enter into a dialogue with the SNA to sort out outstanding problems.

At a two-hour meeting the following day between eight SNA leaders, Mr Kouyate and Mr Drysdale, Mr Kouyate agreed to the condition but said he would have to refer it back to Admiral Howe. 'We are still waiting for an answer,' Mr Drysdale said yesterday. He has returned to Somalia as a commentator for CBS news. He described that and other occasions where the UN had turned down peace initiatives as 'absolutely scandalous'.

The peace plan was shattered on the morning of 5 September, when Nigerian troops were ambushed by General Aideed's forces and seven were killed. That gave the upper hand to the hawks in the UN, according to Mr Drysdale. UN officials say General Cevik Bir, the commander of the UN force, Unosom, told several people he wanted General Aideed dead. But UN military officials now admit the attack on the Nigerians was a local incident, which exploded from a sudden dispute and would not have been ordered by General Aideed.

Mr Drysdale also confirmed that when the UN forces moved in on General Aideed's radio station on 5 June they were seeking to shut it down, not searching for weapons stored nearby. The UN has always maintained that the Pakistani troops who went to the radio station on 5 June were checking a weapons store that General Aideed had declared to the UN for inspection.

But Mr Drysdale said the objective of the mission, in which 24 Pakistanis were killed, was the radio. 'They felt the radio was a dangerous and powerful weapon,' he said. That incident led to UN resolutions calling for the killers to be brought to justice and instigated the hunt for General Aideed.

Just after that attack, Mr Drysdale sent a memo to Admiral Howe warning him that personal attacks on General Aideed would unite Somalis behind him. He wrote: 'If any direct attack on Aideed personally, such as his arrest, is contemplated, it would be an error of judgement to assume that his political opponents among the Hawiye clan would rally to the support of Unosom against Aideed . . .'

A month later Admiral Howe put up 'wanted' posters for the General and put a dollars 25,000 (pounds 16,500) price on his head. The US forces began a thorough search for him and attacked several buildings in the hope of killing or catching him.

According to Mr Drysdale, Admiral Howe blocked another attempt to make peace when Tom Farer was sent by the UN to report on the 5 June incident. He said Admiral Howe had vetoed a meeting, saying it was too dangerous for Mr Farer to travel outside the UN compound and had even stopped a visit by five senior SNA leaders, who had offered to come to the Unosom headquarters on condition they were not arrested.

The climax of the hunt for General Aideed came on 3 October, when a group of US Rangers raided the Olympic Hotel. They lost two helicopters, 18 men dead, 77 wounded and one captured. In securing the relase of the captured pilot last week, the US agreed to terms that have ended the hunt for General Aideed and will bring him back into a dialogue with the UN.

(Photograph omitted)