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Peace Prospects Dim as US Troops Begin Withdrawal From Somalia

PEACE or no peace, the United States military is going ahead with its plan tomorrow to pull out of Somalia.

The first troops scheduled to leave are a regiment of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, part of the Army's 10th Mountain Division. And despite the collapse of peace talks Sunday between rival Somali factions, the US says it intends to have some 2,500 of its 8,200 troops in Somalia out of the country by Christmas, and the rest out by March 31.

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``The troops are going,'' said one US official this week, repeating the message the US gave Somalis at the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Members of the rival factions say they intend to meet again, though no date or place has been set. The two sides are still far apart on the question of who will run Somalia once the foreign troops depart.

Several Somali analysts are concerned that unless the leadership issue is settled through dialogue, war and hunger will increase as Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed bolsters his military position.

There are two possible scenarios after March 31, says Mohamed Abdi, a Somali of the Hawadley clan who attended the talks. The Hawadleys, once closely aligned with General Aideed, now partially oppose him.

The first scenario, he says, is ``back to square one and wars, wars, wars.'' The second is that troops from developing nations, such as India, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, stay after the US and Western nations pull out. They ``might do a better job'' and maintain peace, he says.

Abdiaziz Mohamed Ali, a member of a neutral Somali ethnic group, returned from the talks disillusioned about prospects for peace. The talks were a ``useless waste of time and money,'' he says. ``I lost hope there.

``The people who wanted the peace the most are the ones who stayed behind in Somalia,'' Mr. Ali claims, citing elders and other community leaders who were not invited. ``This was a warlords conference.''

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Mr. Abdi agrees. ``What the UN should have done from the beginning is make bridges to the silent majority, ... people who can't speak out ... who don't have guns: intellectuals, business men, traditional community elders, poets.''

At a conference last March that was sponsored by the United Nations, Aideed and all the other major faction leaders agreed on a plan to form district and regional councils followed by a Transitional National Council that would organize national elections. The UN set a target date for formation of the council by Jan. 15, 1994 - a target an official with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) says will not be met.

At the Addis Ababa talks, Aideed, who refused to meet with his arch rival Mohamed Ali Mahdi, argued that council membership should be enlarged. His critics contend that reopening the March agreement on this issue puts the whole agreement up for debate.

Aideed claims the UN has prevented his supporters from being chosen for the district and regional councils. But Abdi says Aideed simply has realized that establishment of the councils means ``sidestepping the warlords as political leaders.''

Aideed's failure to win control of any councils shows he has little political clout in most parts of the country, claims Abudullah Hashi, a leader in the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, which is opposed to Aideed.

Contrary to statements made by Aideed after the talks, Mr. Hashi says supporters of both Aideed's and Mr. Ali Mahdi's coalition of 12 factions have agreed to continue peace talks. ``It's very likely they will agree to something'' and war can be avoided, he says.

Since the arrival of the first US troops last December, periodic fighting has occurred between rival factions in the port city of Kismayu, and in recent months, from Kismayu to Mogadishu. Over the past few weeks, clashes between factions have also sprung up around the central town of Baidoa, which was at the heart of last year's famine.

And as the US troops start their withdrawal, Mogadishu has again become ``Gun City'' with US and UN troops doing little in response. Somali factions have thrown up roadblocks in parts of the city again under the noses of the foreign troops. ``You've got hundreds if not thousands of [Somalis] on the streets with arms,'' the USAID official says.

The city is ``volatile,'' says Ali, who was returning from the Addis Ababa talks when he saw ``10 trucks filled with military UN troops'' pass by the UN-guarded airport without stopping to assist some foreigners stopped at gun point at a Somali roadblock.

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