UN wants wider role for US troops

THE UNITED NATIONS Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali has insisted that the international force led by the United States and being deployed in Somalia to protect food aid supplies, should disarm local warring factions and fan out across the country before handing the operation to UN peace-keepers.

Exposing a deep rift between himself and the Bush administration, Mr Boutros-Ghali made his position clear in a report to the Security Council. President Bush has argued for a much more limited role for the US-led force, which he expects to be withdrawn early in the New Year. Mr Bush said yesterday he would visit Somalia on New Year's Day.

In his report, Mr Boutros-Ghali contested the US position, arguing that it would be a 'tragedy if the premature departure, or remodelling of the Unified Task Force were to plunge Somalia back into anarchy and starvation, and destroy the fragile political progress of recent weeks'.

Mr Boutros Ghali proposes the force should leave only when it has collected heavy weapons from the warlords, confiscated weapons from roaming gunmen, started the task of clearing mines and established secure conditions all over Somalia, not just in the south where the Pentagon intends to confine its operation.

Mr Boutros-Ghali said he had told Mr Bush in a letter this month that without such a commitment from the US-led force, it would 'not be possible to establish the secure environment called for by the Security Council resolution'. But in his report he accepted that, in the long term, an active UN force with the ability to take military action to defend supply efforts would have to be set up.

In Somalia, a convoy of 1,500 US marines moved out of Mogadishu yesterday to prepare for tomorrow's occupation of the eastern city of Bardera, one of the areas worst hit by famine, as the country's two main faction leaders began withdrawing their heavy weapons from the capital.

The US forces rumbled into Baidoa, 150 miles east of Mogadishu, last night and were to begin the 120-mile journey across heavily mined roads to Bardera at dawn tomorrow. French legionnaires are to lead a force north from Baidoa to Oddur tomorrow.

US planes dropped leaflets over Bardera yesterday to announce the marines' arrival, and the US envoy to Somalia, Robert Oakley, was to visit the town today.

The chief US military spokesman, Colonel Fred Peck, denied that the taking of Bardera and Uddor over the Christmas holidays was timed as a public relations exercise for US television viewers. 'We are going because we're ready to go,' he said. But moments later added: 'I know Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are important days for the news media to cover American troops half-way around the world.'

Colonel Peck said that Operation Restore Hope was two weeks ahead of schedule and that the Pentagon might not deploy all of the 28,000 troops originally planned for the Somali operation. 'We can now afford not to send all the troops because of the tremendous response from the international community,' he said. By last night, at least 19,000 US soldiers had arrived, although 7,000 of those were in ships offshore.

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