By Robert M. Press, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
SITTING near a United Nations tank in front of a UN depot for relief food, Capt. Brewster Matome from the southern Africa state of Botswana reaches out and shakes hands with several young Somali boys.
"We respect the Somalis," he says later at the dusty, wind-blown Botswanan troop base just outside of town, which was one of the main feeding centers in central Somalia during the 1992 famine. "We take them as they are, and we just treat them as our brothers."
But such rapport between Somalis and African and Asian soldiers in the UN peacekeeping forces will be tested in coming weeks as the United States and other Western nations withdraw their forces by the end of March.
The remaining 5,000 US troops, in particular, ran into trouble with Somalis when they began launching large-scale offensives against rebel factions last summer. Last Monday, US Marines killed eight Somali citizens in a shootout while escorting a diplomatic convoy in the capital, Mogadishu.
Lacking the big guns of Western military forces, troops from developing countries will have to rely more on "political and diplomatic initiatives," says Abbas Zaidi, Pakistan's diplomatic representative to Somalia. Pakistani troops, he adds, will not fire "unless fired upon."
Pakistani troops, the first to arrive in Somalia in 1992, were also the first foreign troops to suffer major casualties when 23 of their soldiers were killed last June. The UN blamed rebel forces of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed. The attack led to a UN military sweep for General Aideed and anti-American sentiments among many Somalis.
Another example of differences in approaches between the US and developing nations regarding Somalia became apparent when Maj. K. G. Haider, a Bangladeshi commander, disputed the US account of Monday's shootout. He said the first shots his troops noticed came from US troops who shot into an unarmed crowd. US officials say they were fired on first.
The shootout was the first serious clash between US and Somali forces since October, when 18 American soldiers died in a clash with Aideed's forces. But there has been a recent rash of bombing and other attacks on international relief compounds, including ones in Baidoa, Belet Uen, and Kismayu. Indian troops in Kismayu also came under fire on Tuesday.
Egypt, India, and Malaysia, among other nations, are likely to remain in Somalia after Western troops go home. Staying on is "just too dangerous," Norwegian Defense Ministry political adviser Anne Roervik said on Tuesday.
The West's retreat is causing some resentment among developing countries, which see themselves taking on the high risk of peacekeeping in Somalia. …