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UN plea on troops for Somalia

IN A PLEA to keep US troops in Somalia, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, has written to Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, warning that withdrawal 'would condemn the people of Somalia to a resumption of civil war and all the horrors that would result'.

The letter, leaked to the New York Times yesterday, is the strongest indication yet that if the United States pulls out of Somalia, the UN will be defeated. Mr Boutros-Ghali argues that the 1,300-strong American Quick Reaction Force must not be restricted to emergency combat support but be part of the capacity of UN Operations in Somalia (Unosom) to disarm the gunmen.

At present the Force, which includes 300 Rangers, is based offshore and does not technically come under UN control. It is used as a strike force and has been involved in the attempts to capture General Mohamed Farah Aideed. Mr Christopher had told the UN that it would no longer be used for routine patrols or convoy duties.

Mr Boutros-Ghali says this breaks undertakings given by the US. He is concerned the change of US policy in Somalia this week towards a more political approach will mean the hunt for General Aideed is abandoned. These moves, he writes, will 'help to shift media attention away from the hunt for Aideed. None, however, enables us to sidestep the problem he creates'.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's bluntness indicates that a great deal more than Somalia is at stake. He says the withdrawal of the US troops 'would also represent a humbling of the United Nations'.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's plans for a United Nations world army for peace-keeping and humanitarian intervention are being destroyed by recent events in Somalia and pressure from the US Congress on the Clinton administration to withdraw. If the UN operation in Somalia was forced to withdraw, it would be a shattering blow to its credibility to carry out even minor peace-keeping operations, and humanitarian intervention anywhere else would be politically impossible.

By the end of the year the US Quick Reaction Force and the German force will be the only highly trained and well-equipped 'First World' contingents left in Somalia. The 5,000-strong Indian contingent, which will form the bulk of the new force, has come with a condition from New Delhi that it may not be deployed in Mogadishu. The UN command is understood to be furious.