UN tries to clear up Somalia mess: The row with Italy over operations in Mogadishu is casting a shadow across the future of peace-keeping

THE MORE United Nations officials express optimism that the feud with Italy over the UN operations in Mogadishu will soon be resolved, the more intractable the problem becomes. The implications are grave for future UN peace-keeping and, as in Somalia, for peace enforcement operations. James Jonah, the UN Under-Secretary for politcal affairs, said yesterday: 'If we fail (in Somalia) the repercussions will be devastating because it will show the UN cannot sustain such an operation.'

On the surface, both the Italians and the UN secretariat were striving to defuse the row that began on Wednesday with the UN's sacking of the Italian general in Somalia, Bruno Loi. The UN accused him of taking orders from Rome rather than from the unified UN command in Mogadishu. But the legal basis for the sacking is not clear. Whether the UN has the right to fire the commander of a peace- keeping contingent was under discussion, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said yesterday.

Rome refused to recall General Loi immediately, which is what Mr Boutros-Ghali wanted, and, instead, sent a military delegation to Mogadishu of the Italian army deputy chief of staff, Gen Bruno Buscemi, and a foreign ministry envoy, Maurizio Moreno. The Italian Foreign Minister, Beniamino Andreatta, said his deputy, Bruno Bottai, would visit New York to discuss the matter with Mr Boutros-Ghali.

The question is whether the UN humanitarian effort in Somalia should be engaged in a search-and-destroy mission of Gen Mohamed Farah Aideed, the fugitive Somali warlord, or whether it should try to negotiate with Gen Aideed as part of an overall struggle to fight hunger and restore a viable civilian government. The UN holds Gen Aideed responsible for the killing on 5 June of 24 Pakistani peace-keepers.

Italy has criticised the UN's handling of its 'peace enforcement' operations in the former Italian colony, especially an air strike on one of Gen Aideed's compounds on Monday. The International Red Cross say 57 Somalis were killed in the strike. Four journalists were then killed by an angry Somali mob. Rome believes such action jeopardises the UN operation.

The position of the UN - and the US - is that the UN mission will fail unless Gen Aideed's faction is disarmed. They regard him as a thug who is causing choas in Mogadishu while the UN operation to combat hunger is going well elsewhere in the country. The US is sending David Shim, a Somalia expert, to Rome to talk to the Italians.

The UN's decision to remove Gen Loi brought an angry reaction from Rome. 'They asked for Loi's head at a moment of clear emotion. For us there is no question of his withdrawal from Somalia,' said Gen Buscemi.

MOGADISHU - Italian troops 'received and returned fire' in north Mogadishu, a UN military spokeswoman said yesterday. It was an ominous sign that the month-old conflict in the southern sector of the city is spilling into an area previously thought safe, Reuter reports.

(Photograph omitted)