UN set to send troops to guard Somali aid convoys




Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 11 August 1992

A multinational force of up to 1,000 troops could be sent to Somalia within the next three weeks to guard emergency food convoys, despite threats by the country’s warring factions to attack UN troops as an army of occupation.

Sources in Mogadishu and at the UN in New York confirmed yesterday there was a growing consensus that the presence of troops was essential to stop the theft of thousands of tons of relief food and to try to end the chaos in the country.

Such a force is likely to include Pakistani, Indonesian and possibly Egyptian troops, the sources said. Fathi Hassan, the  Egyptian ambassador in Mogadishu and the only ambassador left in the country, said yesterday there  was  nothing preventing Egypt contributing to a multinational  force, although  his government has made no commitment.

A senior UN source in New York said the secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was “shopping for troops”. The United States Senate passed a resolution last week urging the   deployment of troops “immediately, with or without the consent of the Somali factions”.

The imminent arrival of UN troops was ruled out last night by Mohamed Sahnoun, Mr Boutros-Ghali’s special envoy to Somalia, who has been talking to the numerous faction leaders whose civil war has reduced Somalia to clan-controlled fiefdoms.

Mr Sahnoun does not deny the possible need for UN troops, but only if he fails in his attempts to get the factions to agree on common security measures. However, he has put no time limit on his negotiations and is clearly at odds with a growing body of opinion which regards a UN military presence as the only option.

A coalition of four local factions, led by the United Somali Congress (USC) of General Mohamed Farah Aideed, plans to announce today that the UN will be allowed to have a military presence only in areas not under Gen Aideed’s control.

This increases the likelihood of USC troops, who are grouped with other factions in a military   alliance called the Somali Liberation Army (SLA), firing on UN forces.

Gen Aideed’s main rival, the interim president Ali Mahdi Mohamed, has called on the UN to send up to 10,000 troops. This complicates the UN position by making it appear that any decision to send troops accedes to the demands of one faction.

Mr Sahnoun wants to avoid forcing the  UN to become involved militarily in a situation which is already complex.

“I think the different sides trust me,” he said. “That is why I want to take time.”

He believes the only way to achieve security is to put it in the hands of Somalis. His critics say this is impossible because any police force would ultimately be answerable to the factions.

The UN Security Council has approved the dispatch of 500 troops to provide security at Mogadishu port. Most of the food, however, is stolen in Mogadishu city, or in the interior of the country.

“It would be very difficult to provide security everywhere that it is needed unless we took over the country,” Mr Sahnoun said. “And are we ready to do that? I don’t think so.”


© Guardian Newspapers. All rights reserved