US officials to meet Somali warlords

Hopes for reconciliation before troops arrive; Emergency fund shortfall puts UN under increasing pressure


Mark Huband in Mogadishu

The Guardian, 8 December 1992


SENIOR US diplomats arrived unannounced in the Somali capital yesterday afternoon with plans to meet the two main warring faction leaders. They hope to secure a reconciliation before the landing of 28,000 American and other troops, 1,800 of whom are expected tomorrow.

The former US ambassador to Somalia, Robert Oakley, and a state department official, Robert Odeck, were to meet General Mohamed Farah Aideed today.

Their arrival marks an implicit recognition by the US that discussions with the faction leaders – the so-called warlords – are vital to assure the success of the foreign military intervention in Somalia. All the factions have complained about the absence of consultation.

A senior Somali political source said the aim of negotiations was to reunite Gen Aideed with his former ally in the United Somali Congress, the interim president Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

The USC split in November 1991 led to fierce fighting in Mogadishu which left 30,000 dead. The ongoing civil war created the anarchy and famine from which up to 500,000 have already died.

Senior diplomatic sources in Mogadishu confirmed on Sunday that the French government had encouraged Gen Aideed and Mr Ali Mahdi to meet before the current deadlock leads the United Nations to pursue plans for a UN transitional government.

The USC factions are now aware that both France and the US are keen to take the negotiating initiative and are encouraging them both to become involved.

France’s minister for humanitarian affairs, Bernard Kouchner, met both faction leaders on Saturday and is expected to return to Somalia on Thursday after top level discussions in Paris over how negotiations should proceed. A senior diplomatic source in Mogadishu confirmed on Sunday that he had engineered a meeting between the two, now scheduled for Friday.

A venue is still being discussed by US and French diplomats as well as a 30-member commission jointly appointed by the two factions.

A senior Somali political source close to Gen Aideed confirmed yesterday that the US, which equipped the Barre dictatorship with $600 million of military supplies during the cold war, is determined not to allow France to steal the negotiating initiative just as US troops are about to arrive.

The Aideed faction of the use also expects Britain and Italy to help negotiations.

To break the political deadlock, Gen Aideed will insist that Mr Ali Mahdi recognises Somalia has no government and his interim administration has to be reconstituted. “The caretaker government could be the start of the reconciliation. It would not only include the USC, but a conference will have to decide on its composition,” the senior political source said.

A senior minister in the interim government, Aweys Haji Yusuf, revealed that the arrival of the US troops was about to end Mr Ali Mahdi’s Manifesto alliance, developed during the past three months, to launch a final military offensive against Gen Aideed.

He said the Manifesto group, which incorporates most clans opposed to Gen Aideed, had almost succeeded in trapping him in Mogadishu, after the seizure of his base in the town of Bardera by forces loyal to General Sayeed Hersi Morgan in October.

Gen Aideed is increasingly vulnerable. Two villages near his clan base in the central Somali town of Galkaio were seized last week by the Somali Democratic Front which controls northern parts of the country.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited