US troops withdraw as Somalis sign pact

They arrived 15 months ago trailing glory from the Gulf war and wrapped in the certainty that this was a humanitarian mission. Yesterday, the last substantial fighting unit of Americans left Somalia like released prisoners of war. They were taken off by boat from Mogadishu port without fanfare.

Only 50 marines will stay behind to guard the US embassy and about 10 servicemen will stay on at the UN headquarters to help with logistics for the remaining 19,000 UN troops. Once there were 20,000 American troops in Somalia. They were sent to save lives of starving Somalis by protecting food convoys but became embroiled in a vicious street war. On 3 October, 18 US servicemen were killed and President Bill Clinton ordered the rest home.

Meanwhile, in Nairobi, Somalia's most powerful leaders, General Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohammed, signed an agreement committing all parties to: 'Repudiation of any form of violence as a means of resolving conflicts and implementation of a ceasefire and voluntary disarmament throughout Somalia.'

The pact, only signed when the UN threatened to stop paying the hotel expenses of the participants, called a meeting of Somali factions in Mogadishu. 'The problem is finished,' said Ali Mahdi, the self-styled president. He then shook hands with Lansana Kou yate, the acting UN special representative for Somalia, before embracing General Aideed, his bitter enemy. They smiled at each other.

The only Western troops left in Somalia are 80 Irish soldiers, who are transporting supplies for the UN force. 'We're all apprehensive about what will happen in the near future after the Americans depart,' said Major Chris Budge, the UN military spokesman.