Peace Talks Falter Amid New Somali Clashes
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ The start of preliminary peace talks among Somalia’s warring factions was delayed today by a new outbreak of fighting near the southern port of Kismayu.
In the latest incident, a U.S. helicopter gunship fired on a Somali vehicle that military officials said was advancing on Belgian troops on Monday near Kismayu, where clans continue to fight.
Nine Somalis were reported killed in the fighting, including two found in the destroyed vehicle, said Marine Chief Warrant Office Virginia Bueno.
The developments came as U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said he and U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali agreed it was time for a United Nations force to replace the Americans in Somalia.
The Somali factions’ talks were to have begun in Mogadishu on Monday but were delayed by objections from Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, one of the country’s principal warlords, a U.N. spokesman said.
The spokesman, Farouk Mawlawi, said Aidid asked for a suspension because of what he called continued cease-fire violations by a rival, Mohamed Said Hirsi.
Hirsi, better known as Gen. Morgan, is a son-in-law of former president Mohammed Siad Barre. He continued to wage war in the south and west of the country after the former dictator fled into exile two years ago.
Mawlawi and U.S. officials said a Belgian military patrol found Morgan’s militia engaged in new fighting near Kismayu on Monday with forces of Col. Omar Jess, an ally of Aidid’s.
Army Maj. Marty Culp, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Somalia, said the Belgian patrol called in American helicopters.
The army helicopter pilots saw an armed Somali vehicle moving toward the Belgian patrol, and an AH-1 Cobra gunship fired a TOW missile and 2.75-inch rockets at it, Culp said.
″There were people in there,″ Culp said. ″Obviously it was armed. They were a threat. A decision was made to engage them.″
It was not clear whether the destroyed vehicle belonged to Morgan’s forces or those of Jess, Culp said. He said he had no estimate of casualties.
U.S. and Belgian forces destroyed at least seven of Morgan’s armed vehicles and several artillery pieces eight days ago when he ignored a warning to halt an advance toward Kismayu.
The talks in Mogadishu are designed to set an agenda and decide who will attend a national reconciliation conference the United Nations hopes to hold March 15.
In early January, representatives of 14 warring factions met in Ethiopia and agreed to the cease-fire which they now say Morgan has broken.
Mawlawi said representatives of various factions met informally Monday and today but had not met formally because of Aidid’s objections. He said he did not know when formal meetings might begin.
In New York, Christopher said after meeting with Boutros-Ghali on Monday, ″We believe it is time to begin the transition″ to U.N., rather than American, leadership of military forces in Somalia.
Christopher said Boutros-Ghali agreed the transition should take place ″in the relatively near future,″ but he said no firm timetable had been established.
Robert Oakley, the U.S. special envoy to Somalia, accused the United Nations last week of foot-dragging on the transition.
American troops arrived in Somalia in early December to try to protect food shipments to starving people from bandits. Clan warfare and anarchy have exacerbated the effects of famine and drought.