Chief Somali Faction Opposes U.N. Troop Plan
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ The most powerful clan militia in Somalia said Saturday it opposes a U.N. plan to send more troops to protect food deliveries for more more than a million starving Somalis.
Aid workers worried that without support from Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s United Somali Congress, the arrival of the troops would spark new fighting in the ravaged country.
The U.N.’s special envoy to Somalia said Saturday the international body would proceed slowly and win the support of warring factions before sending any additional troops.
Meanwhile, a U.S. airlift to help save Somalis from starvation continued smoothly for a second day.
The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million people are in danger of dying, and that another 4.5 million require food and other emergency assistance.
The United Nations voted late Friday to send 3,000 troops to guard relief shipments, in addition to 500 troops already promised. Looting has hampered relief aid to the war-torn country.
The dangers of delivering food were underscored Friday when two unarmed U.N. military observers were shot and wounded near Mogadishu’s port. Gunmen backed by three tanks attacked the port, stealing 50 trucks, tons of food and 199 barrels of fuel, U.N. officials said.
″I consider this open aggression and provocation against the United Nations,″ said Mohamed Sahnoun, the U.N. special envoy to Somalia.
The first 500 U.N. troops, drawn from Pakistan, are not expected for another two weeks, and will be limited to Mogadishu.
″We believe the 500 are enough,″ Abdulkarem Ali Ahmed, secretary general of Aidid’s United Somali Congress, told The Associated Press on Saturday.
″Let’s see if that works before we talk about larger numbers.″
Aidid’s forces occupy the southern half of Mogadishu as well as much of the southwest of the country. Their main rival is Ali Mahdi Mohammed, who holds the title of interim president but controls only a small section of northern Mogadishu.
Aidid’s militia fears that a large U.N. presence would amount to an occupying force recognizing Ali Mahdi’s claim to be president.
It has requested that instead of troops, the United Nations send money and other resources to rebuild Somalia’s police force.
Sahnoun acknowledged that the United Nations would have to win Aidid’s support before sending additional soldiers. It took months of talks before Aidid accepted the first 500 peacekeepers.
A senior aid worker said in Nairobi, Kenya, that there likely would be problems if the fighting factions did not agree. The worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed to the bloodshed and raid at the Mogadishu port.
″We support any security effort to protect our workers,″ said Dennis Walto, of the Los Angeles-based International Medical Corps, which has worked in Somalia for the last 10 months. ″But we’re all kind of holding our breath.″
Somalia dissolved into anarchy after rebels overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in January 1991. Some aid officials estimate as much as half of the more than 110,000 tons of food delivered since the beginning of the year has been looted.
Thousands of people are dying daily from the combined effects of drought and clan warfare.
The U.S. airlift into Somalia began Friday with four planes and a total of 37 tons of food to Belet Huen, on the border with Ethiopia.
On Saturday, three U.S. C-130 Hercules cargo planes delivered about 30 tons of rice, beans and cooking oil to Belet Huen. A fourth plane was grounded by maintenance difficulties, said Army Lt. Col. Robert Donnelly, 43, of Suffern, N.Y.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been caring for Belet Huen’s starving since early this year, estimates about 200,000 people in and around Belet Huen need help.
One ton of food will feed about 2,200 people for one day. It would take nearly 700 tons of food a day just to feed all of the Somalis in immediate danger of starvation; the Red Cross’ relief effort is getting about 22,000 tons of food a month into the country.
The United States also has delivered 1,350 tons of food on 77 flights to the northeastern Kenyan town of Wajir since starting the airlift Aug. 21.
Italy, France, Germany, Canada, Britain, Israel, and other nations either have mounted airlifts or promised additional aid to Somalia.
The United Nations has been criticized for responding too slowly to Somalia’s crisis. On Saturday, the British aid group Save the Children charged that thousands of lives are being needlessly lost in Somalia because the United Nations has failed to provide effective leadership.