Somali opposition figures, including top Islamist leaders, opened a 10-day congress in Eritrea 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) that briefly controlled large swathes of Somalia before being ousted, earlier this year, by Ethiopian-backed government forces, was present at the gathering.
The Islamist movement's other top leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, urged Ethiopia to pull its troops out of Somalia, and criticized its US ally in his opening speech.
"We hold this conference to establish a political organization that liberates the country, and ends the violence and chaotic situation," he said.
"We call upon Ethiopia to unconditionally withdraw its troops from Somalia and stop its imperialistic adventure on our territory," the senior ICU leader added.
He warned that a prolonged conflict in Somalia would eventually spill over into neighboring countries, and risk setting the whole Horn of Africa region ablaze.
"We remind her [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 United States to play a more positive role in the Somali conflict," Sheikh Sharif went on.
Sheikh Aweys and other members of the Islamic Courts Union are wanted by the United States.
Washington has backed Ethiopia's military attacks in Somalia, and toughened its stance against Addis Ababa' archfoe 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.
In three years of existence, Somalia's Western-backed transitional government has failed to restore stability.
Last Mod: 06 Eylül 2007, 17:47