TWO years after the international community intervened in Somalia to end widespread starvation, the United Nations is throwing in the towel.
The UN Security Council mission officially expires today, but the close-down operations will take several more months.
On Friday, Colin Keating, current chairman of the UN Security Council said UN troops would be withdrawn ``in advance'' of the March 31 pullout date recommended by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
``It's over,'' said Karl Inderfurth, the US delegate in the UN mission that met for two days in Mogadishu last week.
Despite a $1 billion annual budget and a peak commitment of 18,000 peacekeeping soldiers, the UN mission was unable to end the fighting between rival warlords. Just this year, 25 peacekeepers were killed. But the multinational effort did bring an end to the famine.
MOST United Nations and private relief programs will continue to work in Somalia after the scheduled departure of UN troops early next year. ``We're all committed to staying on,'' says Carroll Faubert, a senior UN relief official based in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital.
Some key UN officials based here and in Somalia would like small numbers of UN troops to continue guarding key ports and airports after the main withdrawal.
In the face of threats and attacks by Somalis, UNICEF staff were forced to retreat temporarily to the UN-guarded port of Kismayo and the UN-guarded airport in Mogadishu.
But a number of private relief officials say UN troops did not provide much protection for their programs and will not be missed. ``They [UN troops] were never very responsive, by phone, personal contact, or writing,'' says Robin Marcos, regional director for the American Refugee Committee, a private agency operating health programs in the town of Afmadou.
When a UN official was shot and wounded in Afmadou in April, it took 26 hours before the UN sent a military helicopter from Kismayo, about 90 miles away, to evacuate ARC and other international relief staff. The man later died.
Today, ARC employs Somali security guards at their compound, and has a private plane in Nairobi, two hours flight away, on standby for evacuation of staff. Private and UN officials already rely partly on Somali guards. But UN officials complain about the amounts charged - up to $300 a day for the services of a crew and vehicle equipped with heavy artillery.