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The warlord who controls northern Mogadishu welcomed Saturday a proposal to send 30,000 American troops to Somalia to help relief workers fight the nation's famine.

Ali Mahdi Mohamed approved the plan one day after his arch-enemy, the warlord who controls southern Mogadishu, gave it his blessing.Their cooperation could reduce the risks the soldiers face if they occupy the capital's ports to guard incoming aid and stop looters from hijacking relief trucks going to towns where hundreds starve to death each day.

But both warlords may be motivated more by a desire to take control of the nation with U.S. help than to end the famine and chaos. American troops could end up facing as much opposition as 500 U.N. soldiers do now.

Since former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted nearly two years ago, Ali Mahdi's rivalry with Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid has destroyed central authority and helped to turn a severe drought into a catastrophic famine that has killed at least 300,000 and left 2 million on the verge of starvation.

Both warlords have allowed the plunder of thousands of tons of donated food to guarantee the loyalty of troops, and U.N. attempts to deploy the first 500 of a planned 3,500 troops to guard aid have been severely hobbled.

Washington on Wednesday offered to send 30,000 American troops under a U.S. commander or as part of a larger U.N. force. In Kennebunkport, Maine, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft said Saturday the proposal was still being discussed with the U.N. and U.S. allies. "We're going to see what we can do to help," Scowcroft said after briefing President Bush.

However, Ali Mahdi and Aidid appear to be misreading Washington's intent to end the lawlessness for which they are largely responsible and protect aid shipments. They seem to have misconstrued it as support for their factions in Somalia's civil war.

"I was so happy to hear that the U.S. has decided to save the soul of the Somali people," Ali Mahdi said in an interview.

"I would be very happy to welcome the U.S. forces, because I am sure they will help us to distribute food and make Somalia a secure place to live again," he said.

The American troops help clans hold a peace conference and form a new government, he said.