US envoy admits failure to control Somali crime


Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 3 March 1993


THE United States’ special envoy to Somalia last night acknowledged that aid workers and United Nations forces which are due to take over the relief effort will face a worsening crime problem in the country despite the three-month presence of 30,000 foreign troops, two-thirds of them American.

At a final press conference before he leaves his post today, Robert Oakley, who spearheaded the American political effort to undermine the power of Somalia’s warlords in order to facilitate the arrival of US and other troops on December 9, reversed a US policy of painting a largely untarnished picture of American achievements by recognising that the troops had not eliminated the criminality which dominates daily life.

“Deaths from starvation have almost gone now. But the increase in armed robbery – that’s a big problem. Foreigners are at somewhat greater risk because they are more wealthy and they stick out like a sore thumb,” he said.

“The problem of armed banditry is a big one, but the problem of clan warfare and the penchant for indiscriminate violence are gone. But this country is never going to be violence free; this country has always had a problem.”

Mr Oakley was critical of the UN for the slow pace of preparations for the handover of military and political operations from the US, which UN sources say could be by May 1. He also hinted that the US decision to lead the Somalia humanitarian mission under a nominal UN banner could make a pattern for future UN operations.

“The UN does have a problem. I hope they will learn from what’s happened here – from turning to a country or consortium of countries,” to carry out humanitarian operations.

Mr Oakley emphasised the role of the former US president, George Bush, and the former US defence secretary, Richard Cheney, in establishing the Somalia operation.

Despite most of Operation Restore Hope having been carried out under President Bill Clinton, Mr Oakley at the one point when he referred to the new president described him as “governor – as he was then. It is unclear whether his departure stems from disagreement with the Clinton administration.

Relief agencies believe that the US success in bringing warring factions together for talks is largely due to Mr Oakley’s forceful negotiations with all sides – and his ability to use the threat of force.

The durability of a peace resulting from coercion by foreign forces will be tested when the factions meet in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, next week. Meanwhile, the potential for failure has become clear following the seizure last week of parts of the southern port of Kismayu by gunmen loyal to General Siad Hersi Morgan.

Thinking they had secured the town, 400 American troops were about to depart from Kismayu airfield when clan fighting broke out, throwing the reliability of US military intelligence into doubt. Gen Morgan’s troops yesterday surrendered their heavy weapons to Belgian and US troops, following similar disarmament of Kismayu’s main faction, led by Colonel Omar Jess.

A US military source said yesterday that both factions had withdrawn from the town and that elders from both clans were meeting.


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