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Exiled Somali Islamist Leader Backs Insurgentslice
NAIROBI, November 01, 2007 – An exiled leader of Somalia's Islamists gave his backing on Wednesday to insurgents fighting in Mogadishu and said the resignation of the country's prime minister would bring no change to his turbulent homeland.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a top official of the Somali Islamic Courts Council who took refuge in Eritrea after Ethiopian forces and Somalia's interim government routed his movement, said the capital's rebels had a duty to liberate their country.
"Our main motive is to fight the enemy and force them out of our country," Sharif, who is now chairman of the opposition Alliance For The Re-Liberation of Somalia, told Reuters.
Insurgents clashed with Ethiopian soldiers over the weekend in battles that killed at least 15 people, wounded scores more, and sent residents of the rubble-strewn city fleeing to safety.
Sharif said Ethiopia was Somalia's sworn enemy, and blamed its troops for inflicting harm on civilians. Addis Ababa says its forces are deployed at the request of the Somali government.
Sharif said the U.S. government was giving the Ethiopians money and logistical support and said other countries were also meddling in Somali affairs, although he declined to name them.
In the latest twist in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi resigned on Monday after a long feud with the president that frustrated their Western backers.
Sharif -- who was seen as a relative moderate when his sharia courts ruled Mogadishu and much of south Somalia for six months last year -- was scathing in his assessment of Gedi.
"When the colonizer used him and finished with him, he was forced to resign," Sharif said during the telephone interview, referring to Ethiopia.
"It was part of the scheme the colonizer used to capture Somalia and whoever replaces Gedi will certainly serve the colonizer. ... It has no impact and we expect to see no changes."
Meanwhile, Ethiopia's foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, flew to Somalia's parliament in Baidoa on Wednesday for talks with President Abdillahi Yusuf, Somali officials said.
Sharif said that if the insurgents were victorious, his movement would allow Somalis a genuine choice of leadership.
"Whoever agrees with us or whoever does not, we do not force people," he said. "It is a compromise and treaty that bring people together. ... The Somali people should have their choice."
He declined to divulge the location of the other main leader of Somalia's Islamists, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.
Aweys is on U.S. and U.N. lists of al Qaeda suspects and last surfaced at a Somali opposition conference in the Eritrean capital Asmara in September.