Friday, September 07, 2007
Somali opposition figures, including top Islamist leaders, opened a 10-day congress in Eritrea on Thursday with a call for a swift withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from their war-torn country.
Some 400 delegates gathered in the Eritrean capital for the meeting, which came exactly a week after the close of a clan reconciliation conference sponsored by the interim government and the international community in Mogadishu.
Sheikh Hassan Aweys, the overall leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was present at the gathering. The ICU briefly controlled large swathes of Somalia – the first government body to do so since 1991 – before being ousted earlier this year by Ethiopian-backed transitional government forces based in an enclave in the south.
Aweys, who was making a rare appearance after months in hiding, did not speak, but another of the Islamist movement’s top leaders addressed the gathering to press his demand for a rapid Ethiopian withdrawal.
“We hold this conference to establish a political organization that liberates the country and ends the violence and chaotic situation,” Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad said.
“We call upon Ethiopia to unconditionally withdraw its troops from Somalia and stop its imperialistic adventure on our territory,” he added. He warned that a prolonged conflict in Somalia would eventually spill over into neighboring countries and risk setting the whole Horn of Africa ablaze.
“We remind [Ethiopia] that the longer the conflict goes on, the higher the risk it will engulf the whole region. The United States’ foreign policy toward Somalia has been strangely confrontational.
We call upon the US to play a more positive role in the Somali conflict,” Sheikh Sharif went on.
Aweys and other members of the Islamic Courts Union are wanted by the US over suspected links with the Al-Qaeda.
Washington backed Ethiopia’s military operations in Somalia and toughened its stance against Addis Ababa’s arch-foe and neighbor Eritrea, accusing it of arming Islamists in Somalia and elsewhere in the region.
The Islamist movement boycotted the Mogadishu conference, arguing that any peace efforts should take place only after an Ethiopian withdrawal. Observers have expressed fears that the two conferences would achieve only a consolidation of Somalia’s feuding camps.
But former Deputy Premier Hussein Aidid said that the opposition also had some soul-searching to do and should seek to adopt constructive measures toward peace. “This meeting … is not a meeting of Somali angels,” Aidid said in his own opening speech. “If we are to be honest to ourselves … we have all directly or indirectly been the cause of the ongoing insecurity in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. No one here from among the delegates can claim total innocence. I hope the meeting will not produce another outfit that becomes another rubber stamp [for] someone’s … selfish power interests,” he added. Diaspora representatives from North America and 10 European countries were present. In three years of existence, Somalia’s Western-backed transitional government has failed to restore stability. It blames the Islamic Courts Union and allied clan leaders for the near-daily guerrilla-style attacks which have plagued Mogadishu in recent months. In the latest violence to rock the capital, three more civilians fell victim on Thursday to the fighting between government forces and insurgents. – AFP