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Key Somali Warlord Scorns U.N., Postpones Peace Talks

By Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia

Somalia's best known warlord, Gen. Mohammed Farrah Aidid, scorned and belittled the United Nations Tuesday and prevented an unprecedented meeting of Somali political leaders from reaching agreement on the first steps toward peace.

Nevertheless, the U.N., sponsor of the meetings agreed to extend them for another day, and Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali maintained that the continued negotiation itself was far more important than the failures to agree.

"What is important is that the peace process has been created, and the Somali leaders are talking to each other," he said.

In a statement distributed among all the Somali delegates, Aidid said that his faction "no longer has any confidence in the leadership of the Secretariat of the U.N. ... the U.N. bureaucrats, from the secretary-general downwards, have failed time and time again to demonstrate an understanding of the intricate political problems in Somalia."

Deriding U.N. officials as "too meddling, too divisive, and too secretive," Aidid, who long accused Boutros-Ghali of bias against him, called on the United States to reconsider its association with the U.N. in the Somali humanitarian operation.

An American diplomat, after reading the statement, said that Aidid was "trying to drive a wedge between the U.N. and the U.S., and that's not going to happen."

Boutros-Ghali, although he has had differences with the Bush administration over its refusal to accept disarmament as a formal goal of the U.S.-led unified command in Somalia, dismissed Aidid's attempt to push them apart. "The United States is part of the United Nations," he said, "and cooperation between the unified command and the U.N. is perfect."

But Boutros-Ghali refused to discuss Aidid's rancorous attacks on the U.N. and the secretary-general. "They are not important," Boutros-Ghali said. "If they were important, I would answer them."

Pressed whether cooperation between the United Nations and Aidid was now possible, the secretary-general replied, "Our role is to cooperate with everybody, and I can assure everybody will cooperate with us."

The U.N., which called the sessions an "informal preparatory meeting," had asked the delegates from 14 Somali political factions to come up with a date, site and agenda for national reconciliation conference and to appoint the committee that would serve as a liaison between the Somali leaders and the U.N.

The Somalis, meeting for many hours since Monday at a hotel, agreed on the principle of a committee headed by three leaders: Aidid; his arch-enemy in Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi Mohamed; and Omar Jess, the warlord of Kismayu.

But they could not agree on the other members of the committee.

Moreover, while most factions proposed that a conference be held in Mogadishu in 60 days, Aidid, backed by three other leaders, balked. Instead, Aidid insisted that a national conference be postponed until each leader established local authorities in their regions and municipalities. These local authorities would then send representatives to a national conference.

Aidid's motivation was unclear, spawning a host of theories from foreign diplomats and U.N. officials. Aidid, according to one view, wanted to have time to consolidate his position in his own territory during an era of preparation for peace.

Another view held that Aidid wanted to embarrass Boutros-Ghali by scuttling his peace meetings. Aidid believes that Boutros-Ghali, when he ran foreign policy for Egypt, favored Ali Mahdi over Aidid.

Aidid, according to still another view, figures that his best chance to maintain power in Somalia is to attract the U.S. government with its traditional penchant for backing strongmen.

Finally, some analysts guessed that Aidid -- and this theory did not preclude the others -- simply enjoyed basking in the spotlight of defiance. "So far," noted one European diplomat, "Aidid has managed to maneuver himself into being linchpin of the meetings."

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Boutros-Ghali, who planned to leave Addis Ababa Wednesday before the meetings ended, warned the Somalis against deluding themselves that the United States or any other foreign power needed to ally itself with any of the warlords in order to gain something out of Somalia.

"The Cold War is finished," he told the news conference. "Nobody wants to control over Somalia. I can assure you that humanitarian relief was the only aim of the intervention. ... Some Somalis believe Somalia has strategic importance. That's not true. ...

"No one is interested in Somalia," he went on, "not for strategic reasons, not for oil, not for gold ... there can be a real drame (using the French word for tragedy) some day: The world could forget Somalia in a few minutes."

The departure from Addis Ababa would end the troublesome week for the secretary-general. He was jeered in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, by Bosnians who insisted that the United Nations was not doing enough to hold Serbian aggression. He was prevented from reaching U.N. headquarters in Mogadishu by a mob of Aidid supporters who stoned the U.N. compound and demanded that Boutros-Ghali leave the country. And, while he was opening the talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian police killed several university students who were protesting his trip to the separatist province of Eritrea Wednesday en route to Cairo, Egypt.