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U.N.'s Boutros-Ghali Proposes Armed Intervention in Somalia

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post


An international military operation, probably led by the United States, must intervene forcibly in Somalia to disarm its warring factions if that East African country is to be saved from further massive starvation and bloodshed, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the Security Council Monday.

If Boutros-Ghali's proposal is accepted, it would be the first instance of the United Nations becoming involved in a country's internal affairs without the agreement of local authorities and with a mandate including the possible use of offensive military force, instead of implementing passive peace-keeping measures such as monitoring cease-fires or elections.

In a letter to the council, Boutros-Ghali said he would prefer such an operation to be under the direct command and control of the United Nations. But he noted that such an arrangement is unacceptable to many members -- notably the United States, which has offered to provide up to 20,000 troops and other support for the operation -- and he tacitly acknowledged that the United States would dominate and lead any force sent to Somalia.

Boutros-Ghali said that traditional U.N. peace-keeping efforts have failed to halt the famine and anarchy devastating Somalia. He analyzed five possible courses of action that the world body might take and concluded that only "a country-wide show of force" by outside troops can guarantee deliveries of food and humanitarian aid in the face of attacks by warring militias.

The secretary general's precedent-setting proposal drew a cautious reaction from the 15 countries on the Security Council and other U.N. members. Diplomats from various delegations said they would require instructions from their governments about what position to take on the proposal, and they said the council would not begin discussing Boutros-Ghali's recommendations until Tuesday at the earliest.

It was unclear Monday what other countries might be willing to donate forces to such an operation. Also unclear was whether African countries, and their Third World allies, would support the idea of intervention for humanitarian reasons, oppose it for imposing a new form of colonialism on one of their number or insist that any forces that go into Somalia be controlled directly by the United Nations.

With his proposals, Boutros-Ghali, who as an Egyptian deputy prime minister campaigned for the secretary general's post as a representative of Africa, essentially associated himself with the U.S. view that active military measures, including force, are necessary to stop feuding warlords from thwarting U.N. attempts to deliver food and medicine to the more than 2 million Somalis the world body says need help.

In a visit here last week on behalf of President Bush, acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger offered to provide up to a division of U.S. combat troops and support elements if the U.N. approves an operation to safeguard deliveries of the aid. But while Eagleburger said the United States would act only under the authority of a U.N. mandate, he also stipulated that any American troops sent to Somalia would have to remain under U.S. command, as was the case in the Desert Storm operation during last year's Persian Gulf War.

The U.S. proposal prompted some U.N. members to call on the world body to establish interim control over Somalia and organize elections there. On Sunday, a senior Bush administration official, who spoke with reporters accompanying the president in Kennebunkport, Maine, said it might be necessary to follow the military operation with such a U.N. effort to end the anarchy that has engulfed Somalia since the overthrow of its dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, last year.

White House press spokesman Marlin Fitzwater emphasized Monday that any U.S. role would be limited to the immediate problem of safeguarding food and medicine distribution and would not include any effort to establish a government.

In his letter to the Security Council, Boutros-Ghali also delineated the difference between the two problems. He said there was an urgent need for intervention by a force under the command either of the United Nations or individual members, but added: "In either case, the objectives of the operation should be precisely defined and limited in time, in order to prepare the way for a return to peace-keeping and post-conflict peace building."

In discussing the immediate military problem, Boutros-Ghali said that the efforts of 4,200 U.N. troops in recent months to carry out the relief operations through passive peace-keeping methods had failed. He also dismissed as doomed to failure the idea of withdrawing all U.N. military personnel and leaving civilian relief agencies to negotiate with the local factions, or the possibility of limiting a show of force solely to the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

As a result, he said, he had concluded that the Security Council should make a determination under the U.N. charter that the anarchy in Somalia represents "a threat to the peace of the entire region" and that a "show of force" is required to end the violence against the relief operations.

"It would be necessary for at least the heavy weapons of the organized factions to be neutralized and brought under international control and for the irregular forces and gangs to be disarmed," Boutros-Ghali said. "This action would help to bring about a cease-fire between the warring factions and this would be a positive factor in the context of national reconciliation."

"If forceful action is taken, it should preferably be under United Nations command and control," he said. "If this is not feasible, an alternative would be an operation undertaken by member states acting with the authorization of the Security Council. ... I recommend that the council take a very early decision to adjust its approach to the crisis in Somalia."