UN prepares for attack on warlord



 

Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 12 June 1993

 

UNITED NATIONS troops and civilian staff in Somalia have tightened security for a possible military strike against one of the country’s main warlords, General Mohammed Farah Aideed, who yesterday rejected UN Security Council accusations that his supporters ambushed and mutilated UN soldiers last weekend.

The airport in the capital Mogadishu was sealed off last night and closed to non-military flights from midnight.

As tension increased in the Somali capital, the US yesterday moved the helicopter assault ship Wasp and three other navy ships with 2,200 marines on board to break away from a joint exercise with Kuwait and stand by at the mouth of the Gulf for possible orders to go to Somalia. The marines have served in Somalia.

The Pentagon said it could take a week to move the task force through the Indian Ocean to Somalia because the three amphibious vessels, Nashville, Barnstable County, and El Paso, were much slower than the Wasp.

UN staff in Mogadishu, who are living under military protection, were briefed yesterday on evacuation plans if fighting breaks out between UN troops and supporters of Gen Aideed.

The UN blamed Gen Aideed’s United Somali Congress (USC) faction and the Somali National

Alliance (SNA) he chairs for the ambushing and killing of 23 Pakistani UN troops in Mogadishu. At least 26 Somalis also died.

At a press conference yesterday, which he opened for the first time with the Muslim cry of “Allah Akbar”, Gen Aideed said the Pakistanis provoked an angry response by occupying and damaging his radio station. But the UN says he had agreed the previous day to a weapons search of the building.

Although Aideed supporters had distributed leaflets demanding the departure of the UN troops, he said he wanted the l8,300-strong 24-nation Unosom force to stay.

“We don’t wish to create difficulties for them, and we feel a special responsibility to preserve their safety … But it’s not the business of the UN or anybody else to appoint or remove leaders,” he said.

He also called on the UN to send an “independent and impartial” team to establish who responsible for the killings, and said he would accept their findings even if it meant his own arrest.

The US has sent extra tanks to Unosom, and four sophisticated AC-130 Specter aircraft armed with air-to-surface missiles designed to lock on to targets using computer.

The planes are on stand-by in Djibouti.

The military build-up in Mogadishu has also included the transfer of an undisclosed number of French troops from Baidoa, 159 miles north-west of the capital. This has aroused fears among relief agencies in Baidoa that they may have to leave because of the lack of military security there.

UN troops in Mogadishu have come under sniper fire every day this week. On Thursday, troops guarding the former American embassy compound, which now houses the UN military and humanitarian headquarters, came under attack. A Somali shopkeeper was killed when UN guards returned fire.

Gen Aideed believes the growing tension stems from a UN wish to discredit him following a recent peace conference between former rival clans in the central town of Galkaio. The conference agreed that fighting between the SNA and the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), led by Abdullahi Yusuf, should stop.

The truce gave Gen Aideed the exalted role of a peacemaker at a time when he is still not trusted by many expatriates, and is regarded by many Somalis as a warmonger who must be removed if peace is to be achieved.

The potential ferocity of a clash between UN troops and Gen Aideed was exposed during last Saturday’s attack, which continued for seven hours in one part of the city. Despite his repeated claim yesterday that he has disarmed his troops and has no militia, the clash showed how much ammunition Gen Aideed’s supporters really have. Eyewitnesses in Mogadishu have seen mounted guns moving around the city after dark in the past three days.

“The gunmen will fight till they die. There are many many of them, and they are united for Aideed,” said a friend.

His view was echoed by one of the 16 non-UN foreign relief workers still in the city after the evacuation of more than 200 earlier this week. “There’s something they have to fight for, and they will fight for it. I think the US have miscalculated. They think the gunmen will surrender., but they won’t.”

 

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