UN troops died 'trying to take Somali radio station': Security Council gropes for a response to peace-keepers' deaths

GUN BATTLES erupted again in Mogadishu yesterday, after a weekend in which almost 50 people died and more than 150 were wounded in a clash between UN troops and Somali fighters, in one of the worst days in the history of United Nations peacekeeping.

Expatriate and Somali aid workers in Mogadishu said that the streets were deserted and the UN had advised all foreign workers to stay indoors as US helicopters patrolled over the city. Aid agencies reduced their operations to a skeleton staff and at least 80 non-essential UN people were flown to Nairobi.

Twenty-three Pakistani soldiers were killed and 54 wounded in the clash on Saturday with forces loyal to General Mohammed Aideed Farah, whose fighters used to control the south of the city. UN sources said that up to 23 Somalis were killed and about 100 injured.

Despite denials that the Pakistani troops were trying to seize the radio station controlled by Gen Aideed, many Somalis in the city are reported to believe that this was their aim. The radio station is in one of the most strategic parts of the city, on high ground near the city centre and close to the Green Line which divides the forces of Gen Aideed from those of Ali Mahdi Mohamed in the north of the city. According to the UN envoy in Somalia, Jonathan Howe, the Pakistani troops were attacked as they went to the radio station to count arms stored there. He said this was carried out under UN plans to remove the most dangerous weaponry from the streets.

But another version of events which aid workers say is gaining credibility is that the Pakistanis tried to enter the building where the radio is housed and fighting broke out when they were stopped.

The UN Security Council resolution passed on Sunday will feed this version since it urges the UN force, Unosom II to: 'neutralise radio broadcasting systems that contribute to the violence and attacks directed against Unosom II'.

Gen Aideed's radio has been broadcasting a barrage of anti- UN propaganda recently. He has tried to divide the US from the UN by praising the Americans and condemning the UN. He failed to drive a wedge between them before the US handed over control to the UN on 4 May, but he and most Somali fighters feared and respected the Americans while they despised the troops of lesser nations in the Unosom. It always seemed likely that once most of the US forces had gone the other UN forces would be vulnerable to attack by Gen Aideed's fighters.

The inability of the UN to respond to the attack is reflected in the UN resolution, which demanded that UN forces in Somalia go after the killers to seek their 'prosecution, trial and punishment'. There are no courts in Mogadishu except those appointed by Gen Aideed, and those Somalis arrested so far by UN forces have had to be released after being disarmed.

The UN resolution calls for disarmament, the issue which the Americans avoided when they occupied Mogadishu from December to May. There is an agreement between the factions to disarm, but despite assurances by the Americans that at least a third of the weapons in the country had been seized, huge caches remain and the warlords do not trust each other enough to dispose of them yet.