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UN force to offer Somalia 'solution': Blue helmets prepare as factions co-operate

THE UNITED Nations resolution establishing a new UN force for Somalia and the agreement of the factions from southern Somalia to establish a National Transitional Council to rule the country until elections in two years' time appear to have produced a 'solution' to Somalia's civil war.

In New York last Friday the UN agreed to send a 28,000-strong force to Somalia to replace the American coalition which intervened on 9 December last year. It will begin taking over on 1 May but a 5,000-strong US force will remain on stand-by and US commanders and officials are well represented at all levels of the UN force.

Meanwhile in Addis Ababa, agreement between Somali factions was reached after two weeks of wrangling at the UN-sponsored peace conference. The agreement gives the UN responsibility for security but vests executive and legislative power in a 74-member interim parliament. The country is to be divided into 18 regions which will send three delegates each to the parliament; Mogadishu will send five and each of the 15 factions at Addis will send one each.

But such concord does not necessarily mean peace. Indeed the agreements in New York and Addis Ababa could contain the seeds of further strife. First, the Addis agreement gives most power to the factions whose mortal control on the country prompted American intervention last December. General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the warlord whose struggle for power contributed to the deaths of thousands of Somalis from war and starvation, will almost certainly emerge as the leader of the most powerful group in the parliament. Many highly respected Somalis who were not involved in the civil war argued that power should not be given to the gunmen but returned to clan elders. The gun has triumphed. Gen Aideed and his allies now control 10 of the 18 regions, which will give him some 34 seats in the parliament.

Second, the UN resolution ignores the secession of northern Somalia and the Addis Ababa agreement repudiates it. In May 1991 northern Somalia declared itself the Republic of Somaliland and has since struggled on, unrecognised and largely ignored. Although weak and divided, the north is united on one issue: that it does not want to be reunited with the south. There is a strong feeling in the north that the UN resolution is aimed at taking over the whole country and forcing reunification.

Although the northern government would accept UN forces to protect UN humanitarian operations, it is opposed to a UN mandate imposing security in the north. Northern leaders urge that aid should be given to help build up its own police force instead of bringing one from the outside.

The third problem is that, while most Somalis north and south rec ognised the superior firepower of the Americans and accepted they had no long-term interest in Somalia, they feel no such respect for the UN and its hybrid forces. Many Somali gunmen hid their guns when the Americans arrived but said they would resume warfare as soon as they had gone. Blue helmets will not deter them.