U.N. Chief Visits Somali Cities Despite Warnings : Africa: Boutros-Ghali stops briefly at Mogadishu airport and Baidoa. U.S. feared effect on fragile truce.

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In a bold and risky rebuke to the Clinton Administration and Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali defied even his own staff’s security warnings Friday to visit the once-starving town of Baidoa and the Somali capital, where angry demonstrators burned tires and waved cow skulls to protest the visit.

But the secretary general never saw the protests.

In fact, Boutros-Ghali never left the heavily fortified complex at Mogadishu airport during his secretive two-hour stop in the capital, where not even the press knew of his presence until after he departed for Nairobi.

Senior U.N. officials, including Boutros-Ghali’s special envoy, retired U.S. Adm. Jonathan Howe, who stayed by his side throughout the visit, said they were not certain the secretary general was coming until shortly before he arrived Friday morning in Baidoa.


Later, as blazing barricades blocked key streets in southern Mogadishu and protesters chanted, “Down! Down! Boutros-Ghali,” U.S. officials here said they were concerned that the visit could jeopardize the fragile, 13-day-old cease-fire between Aidid’s clan and the more than 20,000 U.N. troops hunkered down in their compound in the war-torn capital.

The Clinton Administration specifically warned the secretary general last week against visiting Somalia.

Those warnings were based on evidence in Mogadishu that the visit of a world leader whom Aidid hates could rekindle the clan leader’s conflict with U.N. forces.

U.S. officials in Mogadishu read Boutros-Ghali’s defiant, though careful, trip to the nation where the United Nations is spending $1.5 billion on its peacemaking mission as a rebuff to President Clinton.

“Presumably, he’s doing this against our advice to show us he doesn’t always take our advice--that we don’t own him,” one American officer said.

“Our concern is, this is in the early stages of the cease-fire, and it’s fairly fragile. We want to make sure if the cease-fire gets broken, it doesn’t get broken by us or by some misunderstanding.”


The official confirmed widespread reports that Aidid and his rival clan in northern Mogadishu are rearming.

With rival warlord Ali Mahdi Mohamed warning that civil war will return if the U.S. troops withdraw before disarming all Somali factions, the official stressed that any spark could trigger a return to brutal inter-clan fighting that wrecked the nation and killed more than 350,000 of its people in battles and famine.

But the U.S. official complimented the secretary general’s staff for finding “a graceful way to finesse the visit,” adding that it appeared that Friday’s fierce but largely peaceful demonstrations were “a flash in the pan.”

U.N. military officials, who shared the Administration’s fears and strenuously advised Boutros-Ghali against stopping in Mogadishu, agreed late Friday that they were lucky to pull off the trip without an outbreak of serious violence in the capital, which returned to its state of peaceful anarchy soon after nightfall.

“This was just a message for Mr. Boutros-Ghali,” said Mohamed Nur Gutale, a top aide to Aidid who was held for a month in the U.N. jail here before agreeing this week to serve as a U.N. mediator in planned negotiations with representatives of the renegade warlord.

Gutale added that, despite his clan’s anger over the visit, he does not expect the trip to sabotage the peace process.


In an interview moments after he bade farewell to his departing boss, Howe told The Times that the visit was shrouded in secrecy because “it’s always best to take a little bit of care in these kinds of situations. . . . We’re always very careful about the movement of VIPs.”

A false Friday schedule for Boutros-Ghali in Nairobi had been distributed, and the only record of the actual trip, which Boutros-Ghali said was meant “to express my solidarity with members of the U.N. military staff, the civilian staff and the people of Somalia,” was an official videotape filmed by a U.N. television crew.

The tape showed the secretary general meeting commanders and visiting clan elders and orphans in the island of peaceful reconstruction that is Baidoa, and later meeting U.N. commanders and patients at the Romanian hospital at the Mogadishu airport.

It also contained a hint of how both Howe and Boutros-Ghali view the media that was barred from the visit.

In a brief exchange between Howe and Boutros-Ghali after lunch at the airport, the former deputy national security adviser to ex-President George Bush told the secretary general that the Oct. 3 firefight that killed 18 U.S. troops and wounded dozens was not the military debacle that the press has reported.

“Despite criticism in the press, this was a good example of how the U.N. works together, how comrades come to each other’s assistance,” the envoy told his boss about the raid in which U.S. military officials said the slow response of other U.N. forces in Somalia cost American lives. “The Malaysian and Pakistani (peacekeeping troops’) efforts (on Oct. 3) saved American lives.”


Not recorded by the U.N. crew was a scuffle that broke out even in Baidoa, where megaphones and punches were thrown when an anti-U.N. protest by Aidid supporters met a pro-U.N. rally by a different clan.

But there were many positive images in Baidoa, once nicknamed “the city of death” because of its location in the heart of Somalia’s famine zone.

Howe, who described the Baidoa of today as “the symbol of the recovery,” said he chose it as the centerpiece of the visit because “we thought we’d take him to a place that is peaceful and making progress.”

During a meeting with clan elders and the Baidoa district council, which was recently formed under the guidance of U.N. political officers, one elder with a henna-dyed beard and wrinkled eyes stood up to praise Boutros-Ghali.

“I’m close to 80 years old,” he said. “I’ve never been as delighted as the way I have been delighted today. We are proud of saying we are the first region in Somalia to be visited by Mr. Boutros-Ghali.”

In an earlier speech to U.N. officers and Somali U.N. employees at the French military headquarters in Baidoa, Boutros-Ghali offered the personal motivation behind his trip.


He began the brief speech in a prefabricated U.N. conference building by saying he was scheduled to deliver a major U.N. Day address at that very moment to 2,000 U.N. employees in Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya.

After outlining U.N. successes in Cambodia and Central America, he conceded that his increasingly powerful agency has had its share of setbacks.

Finally, outlining the high stakes of the U.N. mission in Somalia, the secretary general told the group that it is up to the Somalis to determine “whether you have a setback in Somalia or you have a success.”

“If you just say it is a setback,” he said, “then I think it is a setback which happens to the U.N. system all over the world.”

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