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UN and US Prepare For Chaotic Ending To Somalia Venture

AT the once well-guarded United Nations headquarters in Somalia, there are gaping holes in the walls. Somali-driven bulldozers have smashed through.

Everything movable has been taken away. Roofing material has flooded local markets, and electric cables have been sold as far away as Saudi Arabia.

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A looting frenzy has been sparked by the UN's phased withdrawal from Somalia, with the drama to continue in a few weeks as United States forces prepare to enter Somalia once again to assist the UN's final pullout.

Left behind may be the same kind of civil war that brought about a famine and prompted a UN intervention three years ago that became bogged down in Somalia politics and clan warfare.

The troublesome pullout from this African nation marks a historic ending to an international mission that shows the dangers of intervening in civil conflicts.

Any thoughts of a ``new world order'' or painless peacekeeping were swept aside in 1993 by Somali gunmen wearing flip-flops, who killed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in an ambush and later 18 elite US Rangers in a single battle.

The frantic looting has exacerbated tensions in the already problematic and embarrassing withdrawal of the final 8,000 UN forces - from Pakistan, Bangla-desh, and Egypt - in early March from the Mogadishu airport and seaport. They will be escorted out by 7,000 to 8,000 US troops.

Several armed Somali vehicles, some mounted with artillery, sit just outside the airport gate. ``They want to be the first birds to catch the worm,'' to loot, says says A.H. Osman, a Somali medical technician.

There has always been a siege mentality among many of the civilians working in the UN compounds here. But the usual paranoia has increased in recent days.

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``It's the stray bullets that kill you,'' says one UN worker at the airport. ``If you keep thinking about it, you'd never get any work done.''

Snipers fire randomly from time to time over the walls into the casually guarded airport, which now serves as the temporary UN headquarters.

On the other side of the wall in the heart of the city, Nancy Smith, an American working for the British charity Oxfam, says some 16 Somalis, mostly businessmen, have been kidnapped in recent weeks for ransom.

``That never made the paper,'' she says, sitting on a quiet veranda of the office Oxfam shares with the American Friends Service Committee. Oxfam is one of the few organizations with non-Somali personnel still here. The others have left because of concerns about renewed fighting once the UN troops depart.

UNICEF officials in Nairobi say their personnel will withdraw only long enough to see if the civil war breaks out afresh. If not, they have plans to return.

There has been fierce neighborhood fighting in some parts of the city in recent weeks. And south Mogadishu, the sector nominally controlled by militia of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, has returned to the pre-UN days of open display of guns.

RECENTLY one militia fired several mortars into the port area against a rival militia over a labor dispute between two companies exporting bananas. Each company is supported by different clans and militia. The so-called banana war ended quickly. But it points to a larger issue: Who will control the port once the UN troops abandon it in a few weeks?

Before the arrival of UN forces in December 1992, rival clans fought over its control, following the overthrow of Somali dictator Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre in January 1991.

The fighting curtailed relief supplies destined for Mogadishu and the interior. As many as 300,000 or more people starved in 1991 and 1992, UN officials estimate.

If the UN's departure leads to a new civil war, the port will again be key to getting relief food to innocent civilians whose farms are raided and who may flee to towns and cities for aid.

A good harvest last August and September, and an expected good one this month, have eased the food situation in Somalia for now. But any renewed fighting here, which might spread, could reverse that quickly.

``Somalis have survived from December 1992 to now because of the safety at the airport and seaport,'' says Osman.

Somali Gen. Mohammed Nur Galal says ship captains will be frightened away by ``a single round'' fired on them or the port.

He has proposed a neutral Somali committee, excluding the current militia leaders, to operate the port and seaport and to restore basic city services here.

In an interview, General Galal said he would be willing to chair the committee.

``I was the man who led the popular uprising in Mogadishu [in January 1991 against General Siad Barre]; it was not Aideed,'' he states. He calls Aideed an ``uncompromising'' man who ``wants by all means to be president.''

But other Somali analysts say Galal - a member of Aideed's sub-clan, the Haber-Gedir - has been too close to Aideed's archrival, Ali Mahdi, to get Aideed to agree to Galal's plan.

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