Somalia's Opposition Regrouping, Planning

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

NAIROBI, June 19 -- Far from being defeated, Somalia's opposition groups are politically uniting, strengthening and planning a conference next month to hone their strategy for ousting the Somali government and the Ethiopian troops backing it, according to a recent statement issued by the groups and to a foreign diplomat in the Somali capital.

The official, who is closely involved in the country's faltering reconciliation process and spoke on condition of anonymity because of his position, said that Somali insurgents "are reaching out to different clans and to the general public without any conditions" and that "it is becoming a war between Somalia and Ethiopia."

"Things are getting worse instead of better," the official said, stating what is perhaps obvious to families who have lost relatives to the insurgents' bombs and Ethiopian attacks.

The U.S. government supported Ethiopia's military intervention in Somalia, which ousted the Islamic Courts movement, which was popular for the security it brought to parts of the country but which included leaders the United States accused of having ties to al-Qaeda, a charge the leaders denied.

In a pattern that analysts have compared to Iraq on a small scale, Ethiopia's incursion was followed by an insurgency, composed of Islamic Courts fighters and militias drawn mainly from Mogadishu's powerful Hawiye clan, who accuse Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf of excluding them.

In late March and April, Ethiopian and Somali government troops launched a major offensive with tanks and attack helicopters against insurgents hiding in Mogadishu's civilian neighborhoods, and afterward, they declared victory.

But after a brief calm, insurgent attacks have again flared. A roadside bomb exploded Monday in the capital, killing two civilians, and an assassination attempt was made Tuesday on a high-ranking official.

In a move to assuage the opposition, a spokesman for Yusuf said later Tuesday that the government would offer amnesty to former Islamic movement fighters and release others from jail.

But the opposition appears only to be growing. Groups that once were quarrelsome and fragmented are unifying against their common enemies, including the United States, which has launched two airstrikes and one naval strike against insurgents since January.

Earlier this month, a group calling itself the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign met in Doha, Qatar, and issued a statement condemning "Ethiopian naked aggression" and Ethiopia's "collaborators."

Attendees included former Islamic Courts leader Sharif Ahmed, the former speaker of the Somali parliament and members of the Somali diaspora. According to the statement, the group will hold a conference next month to establish a "Somali national movement for the liberation of the country from the foreign oppressive occupation by all legitimate means available."

A national reconciliation conference aimed at bringing political stability to the troubled nation in the Horn of Africa is also scheduled for next month, having been postponed last week for a fourth time.

Somali officials said various groups needed more time to choose their delegates, but opposition leaders called the conference a sham, saying it is merely an attempt by Yusuf to consolidate his power.

The complaint is hardly confined to Yusuf's opponents. The diplomat in Mogadishu said on Monday that the United Nations, the United States and other nations are "sleepwalking to failure" in Somalia by continuing to back a government that refuses to acknowledge the opposition except by fighting it.

"The Somali government is in a state of denial," the official said. "They can't accept that there is an opposition, and that's very foolish. There are daily roadside bombs in Mogadishu. Today for example. And it's almost every day."

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