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Clansmen Focus of Speculation as U.N. Troops Arrive

September 16, 1992

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Two gunshots caused Capt. Chris Scharven to jump Tuesday as he waited to unload a U.S. military plane bringing in U.N. troops and cargo. More than 200 Somalis watching from the side of the tarmac burst into laughter.

But in a lawless city, where 13-year-olds carry automatic rifles, gunfire is often no laughing matter. Dozens die every day, and only 10 days ago a Somali relief worker was shot dead on the tarmac.

The United States is providing logistical support for the armed U.N. force that began arriving this week to guard relief supplies, but no American troops have been based in Mogadishu because of the lack of security.

On Tuesday night, the Pentagon announced that a U.S. amphibious-ready group carrying some 2,400 Marines is heading for Somalia to provide more support for the U.N. airlift.

Mogadishu’s airport is controlled by the Hawadle, one of numerous warring clans in Somalia. The Hawadle won the airport in a fight after the ouster of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in January 1991.

Now the clan reportedly earns about $1,000 a day from landing charges and other fees it imposes.

In the markets and ramshackle roadside stands where Somalis gather to drink and talk, one prime topic is whether the U.N. force will try to take over the airport and wrest Mogadishu’s port from about 900 Somalis.

Port operations were halted for more than two weeks after a gang with three tanks burst in on Aug. 28 and looted relief food and at least 25 trucks.

A Turkish ship chartered by the Red Cross docked Sunday and started unloading 6,500 tons of food. That operation continued Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Imtiaz Shaheen, the Pakistani commander of the U.N. force, said on the tarmac Tuesday that his troops would not seize anything and would only be at the airport ″to provide protection″ when there are relief shipments.

He said U.N. officials have developed ″a working relationship″ with the Hawadle over the past 2 months.

At the port, however, he said, ″there’s not much food being brought in because of fear of looting.″ He said the United Nations must put together an institutional framework to run the port.

Shaheen, aware of some Somali opposition to stationing foreign troops in Mogadishu, insisted his force was not in Somalia ″to scare anybody.″

″As long as we prove that we are not here on an offensive mission, I think it should work,″ he told reporters.

Scharven, 27, of San Antonio, Texas, had just told a reporter that Somalia ″ain’t nothing″ compared to the Gulf War, when the rifle pops halted his late afternoon chatter.

The crowd of Somalis, some armed with automatic rifles, tittered when Scharven jumped. It was impossible to tell where the shots came from.

Scharven noted with a nervous smile that his wife is eight months pregnant.

″I feel nudeski without my flak vest,″ he said. ″I tell you, I’ve got that kid to come home to.″

The United Nations is sending 500 Pakistani peacekeepers to Mogadishu, most of them expected in two weeks. A 60-member advance party began arriving Monday. On Tuesday there were eight U.S. Air Force soldiers guarding the flight. After helping to unload the Pakistanis and their gear, the Americans got on the last C-130 back to Djibouti.

The new U.S. task force, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa, will provide seaborne command, control and communications support for Air Force planes transporting the U.N. troops.

It also is available for search and rescue support, said a Pentagon spokeswoman, Air Force Lt. Col. Jean Freitas.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Air Force also flew two relief missions into the airport, with food for the International Committee of the Red Cross. An Organization of African Unity mission arrived, led by Dr. Djibo Ka, foreign minister of Senegal.

″I’m here to show our solidarity with the Somali people, to express our satisfaction with the United Nations, and to give them the support of Africa,″ Ka said.

Drought and warfare in Somalia have killed more than 100,000 people, and the United Nations estimates another 2 million will die if sufficient quantities of food are not delivered soon.

Update hourly