UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council has moved closer toward an agreement on a U.S.-led military operation to provide security for international relief workers attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to thousands of starving people in Somalia, diplomats said.
The 15-nation Security Council was planning to resume negotiations to hammer out details of the humanitarian operation, which would begin with the landing of a U.S.-led military contingent to secure the capital Mogadishu and its port and airport, the diplomats said.
The diplomats said Wednesday that a larger multi-national force would follow as soon as possible to take over the delivery of food supplies to Somali civilians, who have been suffering from severe malnutrition as a result of lawlessness and acts of banditry.
African diplomats, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, said they have agreed to let the United States command and control the military operation. Washington reportedly had offered up to 20,000 American troops on the condition they remain under U.S. command.
The 50-nation Organization of African Unity said on Monday that the Security Council should authorize the military operation and expressed appreciation of Washington's 'generous offer' of troops.
A draft resolution under discussion by members of the council would urge the application of Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter to call on members of the world body to take 'all necessary measures' to secure an 'environment for humanitarian relief operations.'
Chapter 7 allows the United Nations to use force to put an end to violence. The chapter was invoked in the Persian Gulf War to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and in Bosnia-Herzegovina against Serbian forces.
Western diplomatic sources said the draft resolution on Wednesday dropped the original demand from Washington for a unified command of the entire operation. Instead, officials agreed that a U.N. peace-keeping force, under a separate command, would work simultaneously in the aid campaign.
The sources said the draft would be voted on Thursday if Wednesday's negotiations were successful.
The draft made no mention of U.S. leadership over the military operation, but it was agreed that an American general would command the force, the sources said. They pointed out that the Security Council resolution allowing the coalition army under U.S. command to fight against Iraq in 1991 made no such specific mention of such a command.
There is currently a battalion of 655 Pakistani soldiers and a few dozens officers from Canada, Belgium and Egypt trying to secure Mogadishu as part of the U.N. peace-keeping force in Somalia (UNOSOM). The Security Council had authorized the deployment of nearly 4,000 military personnel in that country to protect the relief agencies.
In a related development, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali asked Canada to temporarily delay the dispatch of its infantry battalion to Bossasso and allow him to study 'carefully' the relationship between UNOSOM and the new U.S.-led military force.
The Western sources said also that Washington, not the Security Council, would ask countries to contribute troops to the proposed military operation. A similar task fell on the United States when it formed the 32-nation coalition that confronted Iraq during Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm.
The sources, drawing on controversial issues from Desert Storm, said even though the military operation in Somalia would be open-ended, the U.N. secretary-general would have the right to end it when he decided to deploy more U.N. peace-keeping troops to take over that operation.
Members of the Security Council had expressedly asked that the U.N. peace-keeping operation become involved in the post-conflict political settlement.