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Senate Agrees to Withdrawal From Somalia before April

By John M. Broder and Michael Ross
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

Army helicopter pilot Michael Durant, battered but in apparently good spirits, was freed Thursday by Somali rebels after 11 days in captivity. President Clinton hailed Durant's release as evidence that his new Somalia policy was working, while insisting that he had cut "no deals" to secure the airman's freedom.

Hours later, on Capitol Hill, Clinton won at least a partial victory when Senate leaders reached agreement on a resolution to back the president's aims for Somalia. The measure accepts Clinton's March 31 date for withdrawal of American forces from the African nation, but would force him to meet that deadline by withholding funding for the operation after that date.

After three days of intense negotiations, the Senate headed toward certain passage of the resolution late Thursday night -- the first time since the end of the Vietnam War that Congress has exercised its constitutional "power of the purse" to cut off appropriated funds for an American military venture abroad.

Somali clan leader Mohammed Farah Aidid, declaring in a Mogadishu press conference that "I am not a warlord," said he ordered the release of Durant and Nigerian soldier Umar Shakali as a gesture of goodwill after appeals from the United Nations, the United States and African leaders.

Aidid summoned Red Cross representatives to a walled compound in Mogadishu, from which they removed Durant and Shakali and transported them to a U.N. hospital in the Somali capital. Durant winced in pain as he was moved, but flashed a thumbs-up sign to onlookers. He declined to speak to reporters.

Several hours after learning of Durant's release, Clinton held a news conference to welcome the act as vindication of his week-old Somalia policy, which combines a reinforced military presence with a new political initiative designed to end factional fighting and attacks on U.N. and U.S. peacekeepers.

"That demonstrates that we are moving in the right direction and that we are making progress," Clinton declared. "Now we have to maintain our commitment to finishing the job we started."

Clinton said he made no implicit or explicit promises to Aidid to win Durant's freedom.

"I want to ... emphasize that we made no deals to secure the release of Chief Warrant Officer Durant," Clinton said. "We had strong resolve. We showed that we were willing to support the resumption of the peace process and we showed that we were determined to protect our soldiers and to react, when appropriate, by strengthening our position there.

"I think the policy was plainly right," he added. "But there was no deal."

He said he had called off the military manhunt for Aidid and was open to other possible solutions to the effort to fix responsibility for the June 5 massacre.

The United States did not dispatch more than 10,000 troops to Somalia "to prove we can win military battles," Clinton said.

Clinton said it was up to the United Nations whether to release 32 Aidid aides captured by U.N. forces. Their release was a condition demanded by Aidid while Durant was being held.