MOGADISHU, Somalia -- In a bold and risky rebuke to both the Clinton administration and Somalian warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali defied even his own staff's security warnings yesterday to visit the once-starving town of Baidoa and the Somalian capital, where angry demonstrators burned tires and waved cow skulls to protest the visit.
But the secretary-general never saw the protests.
In fact, Mr. Boutros-Ghali never left the heavily fortified Mogadishu airport during his secretive two-hour stop in the capital, where not even the news media knew of his presence until after he departed for Nairobi, Kenya. Senior U.N. officials, including Mr. Boutros-Ghali's special envoy, retired U.S. Adm. Jonathan Howe, who stayed by his side throughout the visit, said they were not certain the secretary-general was coming until shortly before he arrived in Baidoa yesterday morning.
Later, as blazing barricades blocked key streets in South Mogadishu and protesters chanted "Down! Down! Boutros-Ghali," U.S. officials here said they were concerned the visit could jeopardize the fragile, 13-day-old cease-fire between General Aidid's clan and U.N. troops.
The Clinton administration specifically warned the secretary-general last week against visiting Somalia. Those warnings were based on evidence in Mogadishu that the visit of a world leader whom General Aidid hates could rekindle the clan leader's war on the United Nations.
U.S. officials in Mogadishu viewed Mr. Boutros-Ghali's visit as a rebuff to President Clinton.
"Presumably, he's doing this against our advice to show us he doesn't always take our advice -- that we don't own him," said one American officer.
The official confirmed widespread reports that General Aidid and his rival clan in the north are rearming. With rival warlord Ali Mahdi Mohamed warning that civil war will return if U.S. troops withdraw before disarming all Somalian factions, the official stressed that any spark could trigger a return to brutal fighting.
But the U.S. official complimented the secretary-general's staff for finding "a graceful way to finesse the visit," adding that it appeared yesterday's fierce but largely peaceful protests were "a flash in the pan."