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Somalia, Step by Step

TO no one's surprise, the opening and securing of relief lines to Somalia's hungry people are proving to be complicated tasks. While the pacification of outlying towns to serve as distribution points is proceeding ahead of schedule, scattered attacks on aid convoys and on United Nations outposts show that peacemaking has a long way to go.

Troops from the United States and other nations appear to be edging toward a more activist role in disarming Somalis, though still not as active as the UN would like. The US Marine commander in the newly secured town of Bardera is reported to have said he plans to seek out and confiscate all "heavy" weapons there. The same commitment has been undertaken by the allied forces moving into northern Mogadishu.

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The US still argues that an aggressive, full-scale disarming of the country goes beyond its mandate. But removal of heavier armament - such as large machine guns - as the opportunity arises, as well as the rounding up of gun-toting vehicles, are steps that will make the US-led operation safer and hasten the day that UN troops can take over.

The killing of an American civilian by a land-mine explosion late last week near Bardera underscored the dangers inherent in the US-led Somalia operation. The man was part of a small group traveling to the town to prepare the way, politically, for the Marines.

Any loss of life among those trying to save the lives of countless Somalis is regrettable. But as US special envoy Robert Oakley said, it is remarkable that more such mishaps have not occurred considering the munitions and habits of violence packed into Somalia.

Most important, the Marines' arrival in Bardera secured another in a chain of eight outlying towns that will serve as aid distribution points for the southern portion of the country. The immediate job in Somalia is getting done - setting the stage, we hope, for the longer-term work of rebuilding a country.

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