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Somalia a Year Later

A LITTLE more than a year ago the last of the United Nations peacekeeping forces withdrew from Somalia. They left behind a country no longer on the brink of mass starvation, but still in the grip of chaos.

Things have changed little in the months since, at least in the capital, Mogadishu, and other major cities. The same political warlords, notably Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, battle for turf. Central authority has been absent since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

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But Mogadishu does not now - and never did - reflect conditions throughout the country. For starters, the northern part of Somalia, the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, has been nominally independent since 1991, though its independence goes unrecognized abroad.

There has been at least a semblance of government there, and less gunplay, though tensions have recently been rising even in the north.

Perhaps most important to Somalis' future is the existence of local pockets of stability and progress. Relief organizations such as Oxfam still operate in Somalia and report that agricultural and water-resources projects are under way.

Local groups are partners in these projects - and will have to sustain them. To the degree they are successful, a repetition of the awful famine of 1991 and '92 may be avoided.

Of course, a degree of civil order is needed, and the international intervention, for all its failings, brought a lull in Somalia's internecine conflict that allowed relief to come in and local society to revive.

What the United States- and UN-led intervention didn't do was help lay any widespread basis for nation-building. In fact, the outside forces left under the assumption that such a task had proven untenable - a clear case of overreaching. That has generally been considered a "lesson" of Somalia.

But it's a lesson that can be overdrawn. International teams cannot of themselves "build" nations. The locals have to do the heaviest work, and Somalis had little opportunity - or in the case of self-serving politicians, little inclination - to pitch in.

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However, if the experience there is facilely applied elsewhere, commitment will be undercut from the outset. In Bosnia, for example, a half-hearted effort at nation-building in the months ahead could prove disastrous.

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