Infighting ‘hampers UN in Somalia’



Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 23 July 1993


INTENSIFYING conflict between key contingents of the United Nations force in Somalia over military strategy has seriously undermined the effectiveness of the multi-national force, a top Pakistani officer said yesterday.

Continued disagreement between Italian and American commanders has wrecked the cohesion of the 20,851-strong 27-nation Unosom force and has led to growing demands for a fundamental review of the strategy now being employed in the city, the officer said.

“The combat force should be from one country. There should be one set of orders and the execution of those orders by one contingent, one force. Unosom must have one military contingent to do the military work,” he added.

Pakistan’s 4,750 troops in Somalia, the largest single contingent on the ground, are responsible for patrolling and guarding sites in the capital in which 23 of their troops were killed in an ambush by Somali gunmen on June 5.

Pakistani doubts about the current operation are a blow to US leadership. Pakistan, traditionally the closest US ally in Asia and a strong advocate of a tough line against the renegade warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, feels its troops are paying the price for earlier American mistakes.

“The US handed over the leadership to the UN, but they continue to dominate,” the Pakistani officer said. “We are coalition partners, but we are very very much hurt that the US didn’t disarm the gunmen last December, when they had the might and the public support to do it.”

In an interview this week, the UN special representative to Somalia, Admiral Jonathon Howe, said that the conflict between the UN arid the Italians, “is not over yet. The question is: can you have more than one policy? As far as the UN is concerned the answer is no … The danger of what the Italians have done…is that they wanted to make their own negotiations with Gen Aideed. They wanted to find a peaceful outcome – which is not objectionable. But the result of that it creates a sanctuary or a haven for criminal activities.

“My bottom line however has been, had been, is still that … it’s up to the Somali people to judge who their leaders will be. What we have to guarantee at the United Nations is a fair and equitable process. We are obviously not going to allow criminals, intimidators, terrorists into the process. And Aideed by his actions against the United Nations has excluded himself from the process.”

This statement is bound to create the impression among Gen Aideed’s well-armed sympathisers in Mogadishu that the UN is attempting to control the highly sensitive political process, while claiming that it is leaving it in the hands of Somalis. It will also confirm the widely-held view among Somalis that the UN is behaving like an aggrieved party looking for retribution.

Adm Howe also said that the launching of a full-scale military offensive against Gen Aideed required a single policy because it necessitated different contingents crossing into one another’s territory.

This was unlike the previous US-led operation, when different national contingents had well-defined areas or towns under their control and there were fewer joint military operations.

A further test of the Italian position is expected imminently, as it is now anticipated that the UN forces will take military action against the gunmen after a series of seven separate attacks on UN targets in the past four days. Three Somali UN employees were killed and three UN soldiers injured in the attacks.

The Italian commander, General Bruno Loi, has made no statement about his position following a demand for his removal by the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, last week. This demand now appears to have been retracted.

Meanwhile, the dispute has declined into accusations of American envy. “They’re jealous of us because our military rations are better than theirs,” said an Italian spokesman yesterday.


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