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TALKING POINT : WHAT WENT WRONG?

TALKING POINT BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)

16, Jan. 2004

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

FLASH BACK 1992/1994 - PART SIX

Butros-Butros Ghali, the then UN Secretary-General of the United Nations was extremely concerned that US troops in Somalia ceased disarming the population "unless gunmen prevented them from escorting humanitarian aid." Mr. Butros-Ghali also wanted the US task force to help remove mines in the North, train Somali military police and restore law and order in compliance with Article 7 of the United Nations Rules of Engagement. "Otherwise the whole exercise would eventually become futile," Mr. Ghali said at UN Headquarters.

But a US military spokesman said a "general disarmament" is not the goal of Operation Restore Hope. However, US troops will not allow weapons to be openly displayed by Somalis. He said it was unrealistic to disarm a country the size of Texas. "You would perhaps require millions of soldiers to do the job. It's tall order," he said.

Butros-Butros Ghali

The reluctance of the Americans to collect weapons from the bandits, at least in the capital, and dismantle the Green Line remained mystery to the majority of peace-loving Somalis.

Gunmen, who were initially frightened of the American Marines and the French Foreign Legionnaires, and who for two years held the city in a grip of fear, unearthed their guns and begun throwing up makeshift roadblocks which they euphemistically called "Isbara" (bastardized Italian word) in various parts of the city, and renewed their acts of banditry and mayhem.

They were by now convinced the American's inability to step up the authority given to them under Chapter Seven of the United Nations on a nation torn apart by clan feuding and banditry. The bulk of the freelancers are the hardcore convicts who escaped from Mogadishu Central Prison at the height of the popular uprising.

Three days later the UN Secretary-General repeated his call for the Americans to disarm the warlords and bandit gangs as part of the effort to get food to the starving people.

The French Government supported his position. Foreign Minister Roland Dumas said that the first phase of the mission was to open humanitarian corridors by force to bring aid to the population, which is dying of hunger. US Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen recalled the 500 Pakistani UN contingents, which was pinned down at the airport by local gunmen as soon as it arrived in October and food aid was virtually impossible to deliver safely.

One US Congressional official who visited the city soon afterwards said the Pakistanis did not even have the authority to defend themselves and were forced to hire gangs of gunmen as guards. He discovered that the same gangs diverted the emergency food aid to the black market.

BITING THE BULLET
In a dramatic move, the two main faction leaders in Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Mohamed Farah Aideed finally decided to bite the bullet and announced an immediate ceasefire. Spokesmen for Ali Mahdi and Aideed said in a joint communiqué that the two men had agreed on a six-point plan to halt the circle of violence in the capital.

THE SIX POINT PLAN ARE:

 An immediate ceasefire;
 The withdrawal of militia from Mogadishu;
 A ban of hostile propaganda between their groups:
 The urgent need for a "unity committee" to reconvene;
 An appeal to all Somalis to end hostilities immediately;
 The notorious Green Line dividing the city should be dismantled.

The meeting between the two rivals was held at the heavily fortified UN mission headquarters (formerly US Embassy) and was witnessed by US Representative, Ambassador Robert Oakley, United Nations Special envoy Admiral (retired) Jonathan Howe and top American and UN officials as well as the international media.

Minutes after the agreement was signed, the two faction leaders, who had not met for more than a year, and vowed to crush each other, now embraced each other and shook hands in front of a large crowd of television cameramen and journalists representing the international press. (Journalists covering the Somalia pitch were estimated at 3,000 men and women from all over the world).

"Things are getting better here," a relief worker told a visitor after the ceasefire agreement was announced by MAANTA, the UN radio station in Mogadishu and both the radio stations of Ali Mahdi and General Aideed simultaneously.

"Security has improved. There are fewer gunmen in the streets and we're getting a good night's sleep," another expatriate relief worker said buoyantly.

Forty-eight hours latter scores of heavily armed Technicals, the customized battle-wagons, ambushed a convoy of trucks bringing relief supplies to the north of the city.

"They were Aideed's boys," said one of the drivers who lost his truck and the cargo to the gangs as they tried to cross the Green Line. But several eyewitnesses said they were the hardcore convicts who escaped from the Central Prison.

"Clearly President Bush underestimated the kind of problem he was sending his troops in to solve. Obviously the UN Secretary-General knew the scope of the problem," Kenya's Daily Nation said in an editorial on December 21, 1992. The mass circulation said: "of course, Washington says it does not want to play the policeman's role in Somalia, or anywhere else in the world, but the crux of the matter is that the Americans must stay longer, they must stay as long as it takes to restore order in our neighbour."

Sporadic gunfire continued in the heart of the city and expatriate aid workers took refuge in the US Command Center because of harassment and threats, only to return in days of relative calm. Many lost their vehicles to the militia gunmen.

Militia loyal to General Aideed decided to launch spectacular hit-and-run operations of their own against what they perceived as foreign occupation of their country, (Iraqi-style today). Marine patrols were fired at overnight near the port, and widespread looting of food aid still continued at the new port and at distribution centers. Pakistani UN peace- keepers who escorted trucks carrying emergency food aid have been shot at and the trucks commandeered, despite the much-publicized Aideed/Ali Mahdi peace deal.

US military officials still insisted that they would never eliminate the basic cause of lawlessness.

"If you take away their guns the bandits and thugs are going to find some other ways to intimidate the public," Marine Lt. Colonel Ronstoks said.
"You can try to lessen their capability of violence, and we're having an impact on that," he added.


An advance convoy of US Marines who drove to Baidoa ignored scores of heavily armed gangs on battlewagons in the countryside. "We will do nothing about them unless they aim their guns at us," said a Marine Captain in charge of the convoy. He said their mission was to clear the food corridors and escort relief convoys.

A Malaysian officer of the international task force described the Aideed/Ali Mahdi peace deal as a "forced" meeting arranged in a "fit of despair," by Ambassador Oakley and Admiral Howe who were "sick and tired" of the political deadlock between the two faction leaders.

Many Somalis believed that the ceasefire, like two previous ones, would not be honoured, despite American and UN pressures.

As the vexing question of disarmament haunted people in Somalia, faction leaders Ali Mahdi Mohamed and General Aideed have told the United Nations they would attend a UN-sponsored conference in the Ethiopian capital (one of a series of fruitless conferences) to prepare for peace talks, UN officials told journalists at an impromptu press conference in Mogadishu.

But the delegates returned home empty handed. The problem arose when groups started bickering over who would attend the conciliation conference. Many delegates, the United Nations and the US wanted a wide range of civilians, such as traditional clan elders, religious leaders and intellectuals to decide the country's future. But General Aideed said only those who ousted the military regime should attend the conference.

He and his entourage stormed out of the conference hall in a huff after the other delegates, backed by the UN Secretary-General, objected his proposal as "unworkable." and "untenable."

Previous talks in Djibouti in June 1991 and later another one hosted by Egypt in 1997 was bogged down on similar grounds by vociferous pro-Ethiopian warlords who used their antics to reject any progress made towards the formation of a representative and all-inclusive government.

A week later an aide to General Aideed said that the U.S. and other foreign troops had adopted a colonial-style policy of divide and rule: "Because they had long term imperial design on our country," he told a cheering crowd of Aideed supporters.

Smelling yet another relegation bid against him, the fifth in more than five decades, this time by the Americans and the United Nations, General Aideed told the Americans and the United Nations to leave the country "as quickly as possible."

In a hard-hitting broadcast over his radio station, Aideed repeated his familiar accusation against UNITAF of breaking into homes and ejecting the occupants on the excuse of looking for weapons.

"The situation is unpredictable. The General's quit notice could be a prelude to another round of fighting," Reuters news agency reported from Mogadishu.

Asked why anyone would want to colonize an impoverished country such as Somalia? "Somalia has huge reserves of both oil and gas and there are lots of people who would want to control these," General Aideed told CNN's Christine Amanpour in Mogadishu.

Others pointed the finger at the giant American oil company CONOCO Inc., which has been directly involved on the US government's role in the UN-sponsored humanitarian military effort. Nearly two thirds of Somalia was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco and Chevron, but only Conoco maintained functioning office in Mogadishu throughout the years of anarchy. Its exploration efforts in the north-central Somalia reportedly yielded the most encouraging prospects just months before former dictator Siad Barre was ousted. Its representative in Somalia is none other than Osman Ali Atto, one time financier and confidante of General Aideed, but later fell out over policy matters.

The American news agency, Associate Press (AP) disclosed that although the vast majority of the ground troops in Somalia came from Italy, Pakistan, Morocco and France, with contributions from Egypt, India, Australia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Sweden, Nigeria, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, much of the strategy was planed by Americans, based on intelligence gathered by American structures, like the CIA. Virtually all the aircraft came from the United States.

The UN Command structure itself, both on the political and military sides had heavy Yankee flavour, many on loan from the Pentagon, the State Department and other US government agencies.

The list included Jonathan Howe, a retired admiral who served as the Special Envoy for UN Secretary-General and was responsible for most of the big decisions. He replaced Ismat Kettani, the Iraqi diplomat, who briefly held that position. Ambassador Robert Oakley, a former US Ambassador in Mogadishu, represented President Bush.
The military commander, Lt. General Cevik Bir was from Turkey, but much of his staff is Americans, including second-in-command, General Thomas Montgomery. And much of the intelligence staff who sorted out through disinformation from the outside was composed of US military intelligence officers and agents from the CIA with a sprinkling of FBI honchos.

What the Associated Press was saying in a roundabout manner is that the Americans were running the whole show in the name of the United Nations, as was the case of the Korean War in the 1950s, the Vietnam War of the 1960s/1970s and the Gulf War in the 1990s.

But the general consensus was that the Americans must accept one fact; that they have to change tactics vis-à-vis the roving armed gangs who continue to terrorize the ordinary Somalis, despite the presence of the Americans with their superior firepower, helicopter gunships, night vision goggles and hi-tech information gathering system.
But it was not to be so.

To be continued…
By M. M. Afrah©2003,
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com


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