Aidid's forces clear roadblocks in capital


MOGADISHU, Somalia -- In an apparent gesture of good will, forces loyal to Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid have dismantled most of the dozen roadblocks they had erected along a main thoroughfare in the capital, U.S. military officers said yesterday.

U.S. Army helicopter crews have detected a significant decrease in barricades along 21 October Road, their commander said. A flight along the street yesterday afternoon showed that only two or three barricades now block the way of traffic.

The change is important because the roadblocks built by General Aidid's forces had essentially prevented U.N. forces from moving along the east-west road. In talks here last week, Robert B. Oakley, President Clinton's envoy, urged aides to the general to instruct his forces to remove the barriers.

The opening of the route to regular traffic could allow U.N. or U.S. forces to begin patrols of the area without having to take the potentially provocative step of breaking down the barriers. But the barriers, which are often made from junked cars and metal trestles, could easily be rebuilt, and military officials said it was too soon to tell what the step might mean.

In a sign that problems may still lie ahead, more than a thousand Somalis rallied in Mogadishu yesterday to deliver a message of anger toward the United Nations and Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

"Boutros Boutros-Ghali has bombed us and murdered us," a man screamed through a loudspeaker. "We do not want him here."

The crowd, mostly women and children, paraded with "Long Live Aidid" banners and chorused back: "Boutros-Ghali down. UNOSOM down." UNOSOM is the abbreviation for United Nations Operation in Somalia.

The rally was a sign of rising tension against the United Nations, and in particular, against Mr. Boutros-Ghali, who was in Mozambique yesterday and has not confirmed whether he will visit Somalia in the next few days, as planned. Among supporters of General Aidid, there is a deep-seated hatred of Mr. Boutros-Ghali, whom they accuse of siding with other clans and whom they consider personally responsible for the past months of U.N. military attacks.

The word among members of General Aidid's political party, the Somalia National Alliance, is that Mogadishu will not stand by and ignore the visit. In January, stone-throwing crowds prevented Mr. Boutros-Ghali from leaving the U.N. compound here and the secretary-general had to be rescued by U.S. troops.

The United States, worried that fighting could erupt again, has advised the secretary-general not to come.

On the military front, Lt. Col. Lee Gore, who commands the surveillance operation, said the abrupt halt in mortar attacks against U.S. forces in the last 10 days has allowed his helicopter unit to shift attention from seeking out launch sites to monitoring movements on the ground.

Colonel Gore said his unit's OH-58D Scout and AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters had detected much clan fighting in Mogadishu in recent days, but he said it was difficult to tell whether that fighting had intensified since U.N. forces and those controlled by General Aidid had reached their truce.

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