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US pull-out could unravel UN plan

MOGADISHU - A senior United Nations official admitted that the UN operation in Somalia may collapse when the Americans pull out next March, writes Richard Dowden.

Kofi Annan, the under-secretary for peace-keeping, said here yesterday: 'If the US were to withdraw it would have a negative impact on our operation. It's the core of it. It will weaken the force or unravel it altogether.' President Bill Clinton has promised that all US troops will leave by 31 March.

Following the deaths of 16 Americans and the capture of a helicopter pilot on 3 October, Mr Clinton forced a change in UN policy in Somalia away from the pursuit of General Mohamed Farah Aideed, leader of the Somali National Alliance, towards a political solution.

Mr Annan explained away the change of policy, saying he was in Mogadishu to discuss a new approach to implementing the UN resolution which mandates the UN to capture General Aideed. He said the policy so far had resulted in an 'unsustainable and unacceptable level of bloodshed'.