A Franco-American task force extended the secure area in famine- stricken and war-torn Somalia Friday while their comrades farther to the rear celebrated a makeshift Christmas.
A combined force of French Foreign Legionnaires and U.S. Marines rolled into the city of Oddur at dawn. It was the sixth of eight population centers in Somalia's southern famine zone to come under United Nations protection.
'Oddur was not the scene of any...fighting,' said the U.S. task force spokesman, Col. Fred Peck, 'but it has been fortified by the side that was occupying it at one time and positions were protected by land mines.'
Peck said the U.N. forces would have plenty of work to do clearing the mines, which were estimated to number in the thousands. 'There are a lot of mines in the area around the approaches to the Oddur airfield, partcularly the small plastic mines -- foot poppers.'
In Bardera, which the Marines secured on Christmas Eve, there was a brief incident Friday when a group of reporters from NBC, the British Broadcasting Corp. and Reuters were attacked by a Somali mob.
'The genesis for this disagreement was that one of the news organizations had hired some Somali workers here in Mogadishu and took them up with them to Bardera. They were from the wrong clan and that is what precipitated the incident,' Peck said in the Somali capital.
'The Marine regimental combat team...came and dispersed the crowd,' he said. 'That was the end of the incident.'
Marines in Bardera also distributed tons of food in that refugee center Friday, where scores of starving Somalis had been dying daily.
American forces and troops from many other nations are working in Somalia under a Security Council resolution calling for protection of food and medicine shipments that had been previously diverted by armed gangs and feuding factions involved in a multi-sided civil war.
The American commander in Somalia, Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Johnston, said Friday that he had been given no timetable for completing his part of the mission. The United States plans eventually to turn the effort over to a U.N. peace force.
'Nobody's told me to be out of Somalia by whatever (date),' Johnston said. 'While we may have forces in each one of the eight major relief centers, there are still outlying distribution points. We will be working with the non-governmental agencies and the U.N. relief agencies to make sure that we have convoys out to each one of those distribution points, to orphanages and feeding centers. So thare's a good deal of work to be done.'
In Mogadishu and other centers where U.S. forces have established themselves, impromptu Christmas trees, some made of plywood, sprung up Friday, festooned with water bottles, soda cans, candy bars, match packets and tiny bottles of tobasco sauce from combat rations.
'This is the best Christmas tree I could find in Somalia,' said one Marine as he brandished a scraggly brown weed. 'I chopped this down myself.'
'We were hoping for a little snow,' Marine Capt. P. J. O'Neil joked in the equatorial African heat. 'We just couldn't get that to happen today. But the lights are on, the trees are up, folks have been singing. It's been a pretty good day.'
In Mogadishu there was even a Santa Claus, who arrived by helicopter from the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli, from which the first Marines landed earlier this month.
As the new week begins, the final two population centers in Somalia's famine zone are scheduled to be secured. On Sunday, Army soldiers team up with newly-arrived Italian troops to secure the inland town of Gialalassi.
On Monday, the soldiers will join forces with Canadian paratroops to enter Belet Huen, the northernmost town in the famine zone in the southern edge of the Horn of Africa.