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Somalia Government Ridicules Opposition Gathering in Eritrea

13 September 2007

Somalia's interior minister has ridiculed opposition leaders meeting in Eritrea who have formed a new group that has promised war with Ethiopian troops that are backing the government. Nick Wadhams has more from Nairobi.

Somali Interior Minister Mohamed Mohamud Guled says Somalia's opposition already lost its opportunity to rule over the country when it was ousted by Ethiopian troops that entered the country in December.

He was responding to a decision made in Eritrea's capital, Asmara, on Wednesday, when Somali opposition leaders and members of the Islamic Courts Union that briefly held sway formed a new movement meant at forcing Ethiopian troops to withdraw.

The Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia has promised to oust the Ethiopians either through force or diplomacy. Yet the interior minister, Guled, says the group is in no position to do so.

"They had a good chance, they were controlling the capital and most of the southern part of Somalia," said Guled. "In that case, even if they organize themselves, I don't think they will succeed because they don't have broad support, they don't have political motivation. We are really close to eradicating them."

Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in December at the behest of the country's weak transitional government to expel the Islamic Courts Union, which had gradually gained control of much of the country. Somalia has not had a proper government since a 1991 coup.

While the Ethiopian troops have been unable to restore order to Somalia, analysts say the new opposition group will have a tough time forcing its withdrawal. However, its existence could fuel an Iraq-style insurgency that steadily bleeds the Ethiopian forces.

Iqbal Jhazbhay is a Horn of Africa specialist at the University of South Africa.

"I'm doubtful that you can have a situation where the Ethiopians can be militarily defeated," said Jhazbhay. "The Ethiopian military on the ground is one of the biggest militaries in sub-Saharan Africa. You're likely to see a scenario along the lines of Baghdad, where you'll have roadside bombings, where you'll have suicide bombings."

The new opposition group was formed after days of talks in Asmara. Eritrea's decision to host the meeting is only likely to worsen tension with Ethiopia, its arch-rival. The government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has shown no sign that it intends to pull its troops out of Somalia anytime soon.

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