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The United Nations should take over the starving nation of Somalia, whose people live on meager international aid with no real government, relief experts say.

The northeast African country is torn by clan fighting, banditry and looting, with relief groups using guards to protect goods from armed groups roaming the country.Several relief officials, at a news conference Monday, said the United States had been slow to provide relief and reluctant to back U.N. intervention.

The international community, backed by U.N. troops, should run the country because "it has no government at all," said CARE President Philip Johnston, who recently returned from Somalia and is going back in a few days.

He said this would be justified under U.N. responsibilities toward Somalis as citizens of the world, with rights that should be protected. From 2,000 to 5,000 Somalis are dying each day, he said.

"The United States has dragged its feet on supporting increased U.N. involvement," said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, speaking in an interview after the news conference. "Foreign intervention may not be the best thing, but it may come to that."

Johnston, Beckmann and representatives of other groups appealed for more voluntary donations to aid starving people in Somalia, Mozambique and other parts of Africa affected by war and drought.

Meanwhile, the U.N. began dropping tons of food from airplanes to starving people in inaccessible rural towns, an official said.

The operation began Sunday afternoon with the delivery of 15.4 tons of wheat to Tigieglo, a village of about 2,000 people some 170 miles northwest of Mogadishu, said World Food Program spokeswoman Brenda Barton.

The operation is being undertaken in an effort to arrest the flow of thousands of people from rural areas to larger towns, where food began arriving by plane in August, she said.