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U.S. Flies Somali Clan Leader Aidid to Talks : Africa: Former fugitive is escorted to peace negotiations in Ethiopia by American military, which once hunted him.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American military, which lost 18 troops trying to capture Mohammed Farah Aidid in early October, provided the Somali clan leader with an airplane and an escort Thursday to get him to peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, leaving Administration officials scrambling to explain the latest twist in America’s tangled adventure in Somalia.

Having failed to put Somalia back together by force, the Administration switched in October to conciliation. “That’s what we’ve done here--tried to move forward on another track,” White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said.

Aidid had refused earlier to participate in talks in Addis Ababa among Somali factions, expressing mistrust of the United Nations, which once issued an arrest warrant for him in Mogadishu. But Aidid, whom American officials used to refer to as a warlord but now prefer to call a clan leader, apparently changed his mind after the United States agreed to give him transportation and protection.

“It is our belief that Aidid participating in those conversations furthers both U.S. and U.N. objectives in Somalia,” Myers said.

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Myers said she did not think President Clinton had been informed in advance of plans to use American military equipment to transport Aidid but added that he had no objection. U.S. envoy Robert B. Oakley has been negotiating with Aidid to help produce a settlement among the Somali clans.

American troops provided Aidid an escort with an armored vehicle to transport him to the airport in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. From there, he flew to Addis Ababa for the talks in a military C-12 airplane, officials said. He was greeted there by U.S. Embassy personnel, Ethiopian officials and chanting members of his Somali National Alliance.

“I am confident that we Somalis will find a lasting solution to our problems,” Aidid said in a news conference after his arrival in Ethiopia. Asked why he had dropped his earlier refusal to participate in the talks, Aidid responded: “The world is changing every minute.”

Aidid’s main foe, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, arrived in Ethiopia on Wednesday on a U.N. plane.

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American personnel began a manhunt for Aidid after forces under the Somali leader’s control killed 24 Pakistani peacekeeping soldiers in an attack June 5. That incident sparked U.N. demands for the arrest of Aidid and his top aides and an offer of a $25,000 reward for his capture. The Security Council called off the hunt last month.

U.S. Army Rangers assigned to catch Aidid had considerable success in arresting several of his top aides, but their mission ended in disaster Oct. 3, when a raid on a building in Mogadishu that housed several Aidid aides turned into a battle that cost the lives of 18 Americans and about 300 Somalis.

After that incident, Clinton switched gears, saying the U.N. effort to punish Aidid had wrongly come to dominate policy to the exclusion of political efforts to reach a compromise among the Somalis.


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