US moves marines close to Somalia

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The Independent Online
ANTICIPATING the go-ahead from the United Nations to lead a multinational force into Somalia to protect food aid distribution, the United States is already moving a first contingent of fighting marines to Somali waters.

Pentagon sources confirmed in Washington yesterday that three ships, led by the USS Tripoli, carrying a total of 1,800 marines will arrive off the coast of Somalia today and will be ready to prepare for the landing of an international force. The ships have been diverted to the area from operations further east in the Indian Ocean.

The White House continued efforts, meanwhile, to assemble a coalition of allies to take part in the Somalia intervention, including Britain. At the same time, a retired US diplomat, Robert Oakley, was sent to Ethiopia, which neighbours Somalia, to begin work preparing regional support for the operation. Mr Oakley will meet Somali leaders and officials from countries supplying relief to Somalia in Addis Ababa tomorrow and on Friday. The Pentagon sources said the 1,800 marines would be available, following UN approval, to 'secure an airport, allowing other forces to follow'.

In New York, UN diplomats indicated that the Security Council was expected to reach a decision on sending a force to Somalia by the end of this week. A crucial area of debate still unresolved, however, revolved around US demands that its troops should remain under the command of US officers. 'We will need lots of operational freedom', a senior US source commented.

Washington made this condition clear in a draft resolution it submitted to the Council last night. The resolutions foresees the Council approving the deployment of a multinational force, but specifically making the 'United States the commander of such forces'.

The UN is anxious, however, to impose tough restraints on the US before accepting its offer of contributing soldiers. The organisation still feels that its credibility as an international body was dented during the Gulf war, when the UN handed the US a blank cheque to launch the counter- offensive against Saddam Hussein in Kuwait.

Determined to win back some of that ground, the UN Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali has made it clear he would like to see the Security Council retain some jurisdiction over intervention in Somalia.

The Council could, for instance, oblige participating countries to report regularly to the UN on progress and make clear that the UN would take back full responsibility once the immediate security problems of distributing food were overcome.