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Somalia's Government Confirms Opposition Coalition Being Formed in Eritrea

09 June 2007

Somalia's interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi has confirmed a story reported by VOA on Friday about a coalition being established in Eritrea, composed of groups opposed to the Somali government and its main backer, Ethiopia. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the details from the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

In an interview with VOA, Prime Minister Gedi said his government is closely monitoring the activities of the newly-formed anti-government, anti-Ethiopian coalition, sponsored by Ethiopia's chief rival in the Horn, Eritrea.

On Friday, VOA reported that the coalition, established in late May, is believed made up of at least four major groups: Somalia's defeated Islamic Courts Union, Ethiopia's Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front rebels, and anti-Ethiopian former parliament members of the Somali transitional government.

Prime Minister Gedi says an immediate goal of the Eritrean-based coalition is to derail a government-hosted Somali national reconciliation conference, scheduled to begin next Saturday in Mogadishu.

"They are pursuing activities that are aimed at spoiling the reconciliation process," he said. "Who is sitting in Asmara with the Eritrean government? They are not taking care of the interests of the Somali people. Those are enemies of the Somali people, and that is why they are forming this coalition. An alliance of Islamic courts and terrorists will never come in this country."

Somalia's interim government took power in Mogadishu in late December, after an Ethiopia-led offensive ended the Islamists' six-month rule.

At the time, the leadership of the Islamic Courts Union was thought to be divided between hardliners, who had formed links with extremist groups like the al-Qaida terror organization, and moderates, who largely did not support radical activities.

For months, western countries, led by the United States, urged Somalia's secular interim government to open a dialogue with Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the leader of the court's moderate Executive Council and to include moderate Islamists in the national reconciliation talks, aimed at bringing peace to Somalia after 16 years of civil war.

But Prime Minister Gedi and other government officials have firmly opposed inviting any representatives of the Islamic Courts Union to the talks.

On Saturday, the Somali leader noted that Sheik Ahmed has been named political leader of the new coalition in Eritrea, slamming the door for good on western hopes that the interim government could reconcile with moderates in the courts.

"I do not know if you believe that there are moderates and they can join the reconciliation. If you believe it, it is not true," he added.

Many Somalis in war-torn Mogadishu doubt that a reconciliation conference can succeed without including the government's chief opponents.

Hundreds of Islamist supporters and nationalists angry over the presence of Ethiopian troops in the country are said to be active in the violent insurgency in the capital.

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