PROSPECTS appear to be growing for renewed fighting in Somalia after the withdrawal of major international peacekeeping forces by March 31.
Behind-the-scenes political maneuvering between rival Somali factions, which have been meeting in Nairobi, has not resulted in any agreements. And a new round of interclan fighting appears to be under way in Brava and other coastal areas south of Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
``As things stand now, war is inevitable'' after US and other peacekeepers withdraw, says Abdullah Hashi, a senior member of a SomalI faction opposed to militia leader Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed.
On Jan. 8, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said the UN would need 16,000 troops to protect transportation routes and keep relief supplies flowingonce the US withdraws. At the end of 1993, about 30,000 troops remained in Somalia. But a gradual exodus of Western troops is under way, and the number that will remain after March 31 is not yet clear.
Informal talks between rival factions here have gotten nowhere, says Mr. Hashi. He adds that General Aideed appears to be trying to line up new military alliances.
Another pessimistic assessment comes from Yussef Sheikh Ibrahim, minister of information for the self-proclaimed independent Somaliland in northern Somalia. When UN troops are scaled down, the ``biggest fighting'' yet may occur, he says.
There will never be peace unless General Aideed leaves Mogadishu and goes back to his central Somali region, Mr. Ibrahim claims. ``He has no right to be there.'' All Somali factions holding areas other than their home territory will have to withdraw, he says.
While in Nairobi, Aideed and his entourage have been staying in a deluxe hotel - a far cry from his usual austere surroundings in Mogadishu.
In contrast to Hashi's observations, Aideed spokesman Mohammed Abdullatiff says Aideed has been holding productive ``informal consultations'' with members of rival factions.
Aideed met here with Somaliland President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, who after the meeting spoke with the Monitor about the danger of renewed ``civil war'' in Somalia. He referred to Aideed as a ``colorful warlord'' who has been ``doing evil.''
Mr. Egal said the UN had paid too much attention to Somalia's warlords and urged the organization to begin working more closely with traditional leaders. Somaliland has relied on long conferences of elders and other traditional community leaders to resolve political disputes in its territory. At one of these conferences last year, Egal was elected president of Somaliland.
Aideed also met with the military leader of a key Somali party lined up against him, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), whose leaders appear split over how much to cooperate with Aideed.
Gen. Abdullahi Yussef Ahmed, who stresses the need for dialogue with Aideed, says only ``minor'' differences remain between Aideed and rival factions. These differences include such details as the number of people who will head a proposed transitional national council.
``If we have another [peace] conference, no matter where, we may reach a final agreement,'' said General Ahmed in an interview here. ``Somalis, if left alone, can work out their own agreements'' without help from the UN, he added - a view shared by Aideed.
But a Western relief worker in Somalia says that calls to ``leave us alone'' usually come from ``the ones who have money and power.'' The displaced are telling the UN, ``We need you,'' says the relief worker, who asked not to be named.
A senior SSDF civilian leader says Ahmed is acting alone in his efforts to reach a settlement with Aideed.
In June, however, Ahmed and Aideed reached an agreement to halt fighting in the region surrounding Gelkayo, in central Somalia. That pact still holds.