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Only 10 weeks ago, Americans were heroes in Somalia. Today they are targets of mobs. The abrupt shift back toward anarchy in the African country is forcing a re-examination of the potential and limits of multinational peacekeeping in the post Cold War world.

"We're going to analyze and review the Somalia mission knowing that the kinds of issues being raised here are ones that are going to arise as we approach future peacekeeping efforts," said State Department spokesman Michael McCurry.When the United States turned control of the Somalia mission over to the United Nations last May, it looked like an unqualified success. Armed bands no longer roamed Mogadishu. Gone was the specter of starvation. Relief agencies were shifting their emphasis from food to health care.

President Clinton welcomed U.S. troops back from Somalia saying, "You have proved again that our involvement in multilateral operations need not be open-ended or ill-defined."

Suddenly the clan gunmen are back and there is bickering within the U.N. force.

What happened? And was a lapse into chaos inevitable?

"Things began to go wrong when the authority was transferred to the United Nations," said Mohamed Sahnoun, an Algerian diplomat who is a former U.N. envoy to Somalia.

Like many observers of the situation in Somalia, Sahnoun advocates using negotiations rather than force to get rival clans to surrender their arms.

"We're not at war there," he said. "We have to convince people to disarm."

"Sooner or later, something like this was bound to happen," said Eliot Cohen, a military historian at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

A mission that started out as humanitarian, said Cohen "has turned into low-level warfare where we've decided to get one of the local leaders."

The local leader is warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, whose forces were blamed for the ambush and killing of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers June 5.

The question of how to deal with Aidid has split U.N. forces, with the Italians, one-time colonial rulers of Somalia, opposing military action against him.

Gen. Mario Buscemi, Italy's deputy army chief, flew to Mogadishu at week's end and said he supported talks with Somali gunmen, whom the United Nations has branded as terrorists.

"The only way to carry on the peace mission is with negotiations," said Buscemi.

The dispute has U.S. officials conceding the U.N. peacekeeping mechanism needs some refining.

"I think that we all know that these peacekeeping operations are breaking new territory in terms of how the international community does business and it's not without its bumps in the road," said Madeleine Albright, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. "We're going to have to make it work better."