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U.N. running out of time to quell Somalia violence


NAIROBI, Kenya -- With Mogadishu smoldering in anger and violence, the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia is finding that its fundamental mission to restore order is proving increasingly elusive.

But it is premature to say that the effort has bogged down in the quagmire of a protracted guerrilla war.

Many U.N. and U.S. officials believe the United Nations can turn the situation around and restore peace to Mogadishu if it quickly arrests the fugitive Somali clan leader, Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid. Time, however, is widely seen to be running out.

Mr. Aidid, accused by the United Nations of masterminding the ambush and killing of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers on June 5, has been in hiding for more than three weeks. The United Nations has hit his headquarters and other command centers with massive air and ground attacks. It is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

Yet Mr. Aidid has continued to organize guerrilla strikes against the United Nations and has severely weakened the organization's credibility in Somalia.

He has also practiced his version of divide and rule, fostering a deepening rift between the United Nations, which will not negotiate with him, and Italy, an integral part of the U.N. force here. The Italians are threatening to pull out of Mogadishu if the United Nations does not back off militarily and begin negotiating.

The rift became even more open yesterday when the Italian commander resigned, apparently under pressure from the United Nations.

Mr. Aidid and his several hundred staunch supporters have proved strong adversaries. Of the roughly 20,000 U.N. troops from 24 countries, more than 13,000 are in Mogadishu. U.N. military officials say they expect another 6,000 in the next month before they begin the process of disarming the city and patrolling it in large numbers.

On the surface, the streets of Mogadishu are still bustling. But violence has continued every day for the last 39 days, forcing the entire U.N. operation off the streets and into the fortress of the huge compound of the former U.S. Embassy.

The latest U.N. military strike on Monday only fueled the intense bitterness many Somalis in Mogadishu now feel toward the organization. Angry mobs turned on four journalists and beat them to death. And with little visible U.N. military presence, the capital has become a no man's land controlled by snipers and Somali militia who now target any foreigner.

Outside Mogadishu, the U.N. operation is a success in many ways. Somalia has won a new lease on life. In Baidoa and Bardera, towns where hundreds of people died of starvation every day last year, the U.N. no longer needs to distribute food. The crops are good, if not yet sufficient to feed the entire population.

In the towns, gunmen have disappeared, replaced by troops from various countries. U.N. officials are continuing talks with clan leaders throughout southern Somalia and say the Somalis want to cooperate with the international effort and disarm the country. Most towns are creating a new Somali police force, the first step toward building a government.

But the chaos in Mogadishu has also fed a growing instability in the countryside. Banditry is still a major problem and the U.N. military still has to escort all relief convoys. Somali clan and faction leaders, capitalizing on the fact that Mr. Aidid is under attack by the U.N., are jockeying for power. Although they all say they want to cooperate with the United Nations, none so far have voluntarily begun disarming. Everyone is watching and waiting to see what the United Nations will do next.

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