UNITED NATIONS, JULY 14 -- The United Nations, seeking to reassert control over the divided peace-keeping operation in Somalia, has removed the Italian contingent's commander.

Gen. Bruno Loi, commander of the 2,442-man Italian force in Mogadishu, has been "rotated back to Rome" and is expected to return to Italy "as soon as possible," Kofi Annan, U.N. undersecretary general for peace-keeping operations, announced today.

Annan said "unhealthy" distrust and suspicion had arisen between Loi and other generals in the 27-nation Somalia peace-keeping force, because the Italian general had refused to carry out orders of the U.N. commander conducting an increasingly aggressive military campaign against a Somali warlord. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali asked Italian leaders to withdraw Loi in a telephone conversation Tuesday.

In addition to the Turkish U.N. commander, Gen. Cevik Bir, the U.N. forces in Somalia are under orders from U.N. envoy Jonathan T. Howe, a retired U.S. admiral, and U.S. Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, Bir's deputy.

The incident spotlighted discipline problems and political disputes that have undermined the U.N. peace-keeping operation, which has come under growing criticism over U.S.-led air strikes against warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed that have caused many civilian casualties. The international military operation in Somalia moved from U.S. to U.N. command in May but still is beset by competing ideas in different national capitals about how to end the violence and begin restoring national authority.

In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Beniamino Andreatta said he was "outraged" by the United Nations' decision to remove Loi, the Reuter news agency reported. Defense Minister Fabio Fabbri told Italian radio, "This is a very singular way to avoid the real problem."

Italy, which wants a review of the peace-keeping mission in its former colony, has argued that the operation is degenerating into open conflict between the United Nations and Aideed, losing sight of the humanitarian and disarmament mandate on which it was based.

Italian authorities said earlier this week that unless they got a more decisive voice in U.N. command decisions, they would seek to have their soldiers redeployed out of Mogadishu to join other Italian troops stationed north of the Somali capital.

Currently, 5,039 U.S. troops -- 3,881 under U.N. command -- remain in Somalia, down from a peak of 28,000 troops sent in December as part of a U.S.-led international coalition to protect deliveries of humanitarian aid in a nation reduced to starvation by feuding among warlords.

The Clinton administration has pledged to promote the United Nations as the means for carrying out its new multilateral diplomacy. The problems that have arisen in Somalia are an example of the perils that U.S. troops may face in U.N. operations, which are breaking new ground in command-and-control and political integration of multinational forces.

"This is all new territory," said Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who recently returned from a visit of several hours to Somalia. But Albright was confident the Somalia operation will succeed and said the difficulties had not caused the administration to reconsider its commitment to U.N. peace-keeping.

Annan said the Italian contingent -- the third largest in the 20,854-member force -- "refused to accept certain tasks because they were waiting for instructions from Rome. That is unacceptable. For an operation like this, which can be dangerous, to succeed, you need unity of command."

The Italian contingent, citing Somalia's role as a former Italian colony, claimed to have warmer relations with Aideed that could be the basis for a peace dialogue, diplomats said. The Somali warlord is accused by the United Nations of masterminding the killings of 35 U.N. peace keepers, including three Italians, since June 5. The United Nations has issued a warrant for Aideed's arrest. The Italians "were marching to a different drummer," a senior U.S. official said.

The Italians reportedly persisted in seeking to negotiate with Aideed even after three of their soldiers were killed and 30 wounded in a July 2 ambush that U.N. officials blamed on the warlord. In addition, Annan said, Loi did not inform U.N. commanders before launching that ill-fated operation, and they only learned of it when Loi called U.N. headquarters for reinforcements.

Diplomats also said Boutros-Ghali was enraged by public criticism of the U.N. operation in Somalia by Italian officials, who, after the Italian peace keepers were killed, called for an end to U.N. combat missions and a reassessment of the U.N. position.

U.N. officials decided to move forcefully against Loi, at the risk of infuriating the Italian government, to reestablish their authority and curb other command problems that have plagued the operation. "We are one organization with one policy and command structure, and all the governments participating have to accept that," Annan said.

Annan said another contingent, reportedly from Saudi Arabia, had refused to participate in any operations for a month earlier this year, saying it was awaiting orders from its government. "That was hard to swallow," Annan said.

"In Bosnia we are accused of standing by as criminal elements attack women, shell cities and kill civilians," Annan said. "In Somalia, for the first time, we have a mandate to check some of these criminal elements. In the face of a cruel and painful humanitarian situation, can we stand by and let it go on?"

* U.N. headquarters staff includes troops from Australia, Canada and New Zealand

* India and South Korea have sent advance parties; main troops yet to arrive

* In addition to U.S. forces with U.N. contingent, another 1,158 are in a quick reaction force not under U.N. command

Pakistan .......... 4,718 ..... 23%

United States ..... 3,881 ..... 19%

Italy ............. 2,442 ..... 12%

*Others ....................... 46%

*Morocco ............... 1,340

France ................. 1,089

Zimbabwe ................. 987

Belgium .................. 966

Malaysia ................. 873

United Arab Emirates ..... 690

Saudi Arabia ............. 678

Nigeria .................. 556

Egypt .................... 540

Turkey ................... 316

Germany .................. 288

Romania .................. 236

Botswana ................. 203

Sweden ................... 146

Tunisia .................. 143

Norway ................... 138

Kuwait ................... 108

Greece ................... 101

Bangladesh ................ 25

Force HQ ................. 390

TOTAL ..... 20,854

SOURCE: United Nations, Associated Press