Somali Opposition Conveference Opens in Asmara, About 350 delegates are attending the talks with observers from the European Union, Arab league and the UN.

Islamic leader

Asmara Eritrea

 Halkaan ka akhri

Asmara 7 September 2007.

ASMARA — Somali rebel leaders gathered in Asmara for an opposition congress where they will discuss a military strategy to adopt against Ethiopian troops in Somalia, a conference spokesman said Friday.

Some 350 delegates, including senior Islamist leaders, exiled lawmakers, and diaspora representatives have gathered in the Eritrean capital for the meeting, aimed at unifying opposition to “liberate Somalia from Ethiopia.”

“There will be discussions about this issue [fighting Ethiopia],” said conference spokesman Zakariya Mahamud Abdi in response to reporters’ questions.

“People who are specialists in the area of military operations will handle this issue – it will not be for Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

The week-long conference began Thursday, a week after the close of a clan reconciliation conference sponsored by the interim government and the international community in Mogadishu.

Discussions Friday are due to include the opposition’s political program, according to the conference’s agenda.

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.

It blames the Islamic Courts Union and allied clan leaders for near daily guerrilla-style attacks that have plagued Mogadishu in recent months.

Abdi, a former member of the government, said the conference was open to “as many segments of Somali society as possible” – but ruled out talks with the interim government.

“I was an MP … but there is no such thing, now, as the transitional government,” he said. “You cannot be both a government and under the occupation of foreign forces.”

Since the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has had no central authority, and has defied several initiatives aimed at ending bloody tribal feuds and restoring stability.

However, Abdi said he and other delegates were optimistic about the success of the conference in having a positive impact toward creating peace in Somalia.

“There have been over 16 conferences for Somalia in the last 16 years, and I have participated in almost every one of them … I am a veteran of Somali conferences,” he said.

“But I have confidence in this one to have to the capacity to liberate the country.”

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