Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Somalia Peace Mission.

Proinsias De Rossa

Ceist:

13 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Somalia and his discussions with General Aidid; the terms of the mandate under which the Irish troops are now operating in the aftermath of the withdrawal of US troops; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

19 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence whether the safety of our troops in Somalia is assured; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

25 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Defence the circumstances of the attack on an Irish convoy in Somalia on 15 March 1994, in which a number of the assailants died; if he has satisfied himself with the security arrangements for Irish troops in Somalia; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Paul Bradford

Ceist:

92 Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for the Defence if he has satisfied himself that the Irish troops in Somalia will not face difficulties and danger in view of their being the only western troops in the region.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 19, 25 and 92 together.

The primary purpose of my recent trip to Somalia was to visit Irish personnel serving with UNOSOM II — whom I found to be in excellent spirits. I was greatly impressed by their sense of commitment to the important work which they are undertaking in the cause of international peace.

I had meetings in Nairobi with General Aidid, interim president Ali Mahdi and Ambassador Kouyate, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General. I also had meetings in Mogadishu with the UNOSOM Force Commander, General Aboo and Mr. Abdul Touray, Political Official with UNOSOM.

My meeting with General Aidid was most cordial. The General expressed deep interest in doing everything possible to ensure the safety of Irish troops and assured me that the Irish are most welcome in Somalia.

The current mandate of UNOSOM II is as follows: encouraging and assisting the Somali parties in implementing the "Addis Ababa Agreements", in particular in their co-operative efforts to achieve disarmament and to respect the cease-fire; protecting major ports and airports and essential infrastructure and safeguarding the lines of communications vital to the provision of humanitarian relief and reconstruction assistance; continuing its efforts to provide humanitarian relief to all in need throughout the country; assisting in the reorganisation of the Somali police and judicial system; helping with the repatriation and resettlement of refugees and displaced persons; assisting in the ongoing political process in Somalia which should culminate in the installation of a democratically elected government and providing protection for the personnel, installations and equipment of the United Nations and its agencies, as well as of non-governmental organisations providing humanitarian relief and reconstruction assistance.

The Irish contribution to UNOSOM II consists mainly of an 80 strong transport company. It has the capacity to defend itself and has sufficient trained personnel and weapons for this purpose. The contingent is based in a secure camp in Baidoa and is escorted on the move by the units of the Indian Brigade. Arrangements which are currently being made to provide two SISU armoured personnel carriers to the unit will add greatly to troop security, providing enhanced communications and the ability to evacuate personnel should they come under fire.

It has been established that the attack on the UN convoy which was returning from Mogadishu to Baidoa on 15 March last was almost certainly unpremeditated. As far as can be ascertained, the convoy got caught up in an armed confrontation between rival sub-clans. Personnel from the Indian Brigade who were on escort duty with the convoy fired on the attackers. The Irish and Indian personnel did not suffer any casualties.

The latest peace agreement between the main rival factions, recently signed in Nairobi, gives some grounds for hope that the levels of conflict in Somalia may decrease. Since the US military withdrawal the Irish contingent has not experienced any increased hostility.

When the tour of duty of the contingent at present in Somalia ends in September next, the Defence Forces will have given 12 months' service in Somalia. That will represent a substantial contribution by the Defence Forces in Somalia and consideration as to whether the Irish presence there should be further extended is now timely. I am initiating a full scale review of the situation, including a fundamental assessment by the military authorities.

The question of a third rotation is a matter for the Government.

Will the Minister outline the nature of the assurance he received from General Aidid who has been converted from a warlord to a general by some magic formula?

It happens in most revolutions.

I recall the Minister using the term "warlord" not too long ago.

We could describe some of our own antecedents as warlords. My father might have been described as a warlord.

What I find extraordinary is that along with General Aidid being converted from being a warlord, the Minister has also been converted from his conviction of some months ago that it was right to send Irish troops in pursuit of a peace enforcement mandate. He is quoted inThe Irish Times as saying he always believed that was wrong.

I must dissuade the Deputy from quoting. I would prefer that we proceeded by way of direct supplementary questions.

I am trying to put a supplementary question but the Minister interrupts and diverts the discussion down other alleys.

I am sorry, I did not mean to interrupt.

Will the Minister agree that it was entirely inappropriate of the Government to send Irish troops in pursuit of the peace enforcement mandate in Somalia when the Minister for Defence says that he never believed it was right to do so in the first place? Can I take it that he is expressing the view of the Government that Irish troops will not in future be sent on peace enforcement missions?

I cannot anticipate what the Government may or may not do but, as Minister for Defence, I would like to hope that I will not be sending our troops on peace enforcement missions. As to my views on peace enforcement and peace-keeping, despite introducing legislation setting out the need to provide a contingent in Somalia for peace-keeping and peace enforcement purposes, my views have never changed. I had an obligation to introduce legislation to give effect to the views of the Government. That was part of my collective responsibility as a member of the Government.

In regard to my good friend General Aidid, I had an hour-long meeting in Nairobi, my third with him. I met him in difficult circumstances on two other occasions in Mogadishu, once with our esteemed President and, on the first occasion, on my own. When I met General Aidid in Nairobi he addressed the need to enter into a peace dialogue with his sworn enemy, interim President Ali Mahdi. Five or six days later both General Aidid and Ali Mahdi signed a peace accord which still holds. Although there is some banditry taking place in Somalia, it is not as bad as it was. That may be attributable to the existence of the peace accord and Ali Mahdi and General Aidid not being at war with each other. I hope peace will break out across Somalia and infrastructural development will take place to include the improvement of schools, hospitals, roads and, particularly the restructuring of the police force. There is a 7,000-strong police force and although it will be difficult, it is hoped to create a full-time police force of 10,000 personnel.

On the question of rotating the transport company for the third time, that is a matter for decision by the Government. At this stage, I would not be inclined to rotate for a third time.

How many Somalis were killed in pursuit of the UN peace enforcement mandate? We know that 50 US members of the United Nations force were killed as a result of that unhappy episode in UN history.

The United Nations suffered serious loss of life. We have to pay tribute to the American forces on being prepared to put their men on the line. They suffered horrific casualties. I do not have an exact figure of Somalis killed but it runs into hundreds.

They do not count.

They did not count. That is why the US went in after the so-called warlord bombing of residential suburbs.

That was a personality clash between Howe and Aidid.