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
"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
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. …