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Somali opposition chief criticizes Eritrea govt
Djibouti City, Djibouti 25 May 2008 - The leader of Somalia's exiled opposition coalition, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), has criticized the Eritrean government for "creating divisions" among the opposition leaders.
ARS Chairman Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who is now in Djibouti, admitted that there are serious political differences among leaders of the Eritrea-based opposition alliance during a Sunday press conference.
"It is unfortunate that the Government of Eritrea has taken steps that we can assume are intended to create division inside the Alliance," Sheikh Sharif said, adding that the breakup of the opposition alliance is not in Eritrea's interest.
Further, the ARS Chairman was critical of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys for "spreading doubtful news" to the Somali people, while warning Aweys and other Alliance members not to confuse the public.
Sheikh Sharif said he supports the UN-backed peace process with the Somali transitional government, saying that the international community was determined to find a lasting resolution to the 18-year Somali crisis.
The opposition chief welcomed a recent UN Security Council report alleging that Somali and Ethiopian troops, as well as African Union peacekeepers, are involved in arms trafficking.
According to Sheikh Sharif, it is "absolutely true" that the Ethiopian army has routinely given weapons to "friendly clans" in Somalia, an allegation that appeared in the UN report but denied by Addis Ababa.
The UN imposed an arms embargo on Somalia in 1992, but that embargo has seldom stopped governments and private weapons dealers from pouring arms into the chaotic Horn of Africa country.
Also, the Somali opposition leader rejected last week's comments from Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that his troops will stay in Somalia until "jihadists" are defeated.
Sheikh Sharif said such talk is "unacceptable," while threatening to continue the guerrilla war against Ethiopia's presence on Somali soil.
A rift among Somali opposition leaders first surfaced when Sheikh Aweys, the spiritual head of Somalia' s Islamic Courts movement, publicly condemned the peace talks initiated in Djibouti on May 12 that enjoys support from Somali Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein and the ARS chief.
Aweys, who is on the U.S. wanted terrorist list, referred to the peace talks as "a waste of time," while criticizing Sheikh Sharif for not consulting with the Eritrea-based ARS officers.
Another round of Somali government-opposition peace talks is scheduled to begin in Djibouti City on May 31, according to UN officials.
Also on Sunday, the ARS faction in Djibouti led by Sheikh Sharif gained a jolt of support from Abukar Omar Adani, the key financier of the Union of Islamic Courts' rise to fame in 2006.
Mr. Adani, an aging cripple who wields considerable influence in Mogadishu, praised Sheikh Sharif's leadership and openly stated that he supports peace talks to end the suffering in Somalia.
"Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is a responsible leader who is working for the interests of the Somali people and is working to end the conflict," Mr. Adani said while speaking to local media.
But the wealthy businessman distanced himself from speculation that he is mediating between Sheikh Sharif and Sheikh Aweys, the executive and legislative heads of the Islamic Courts movement, respectively.
Mr. Adani said such reports are "false," adding: "I am not a member of the [Eritrea-based] Alliance."
Source: Garowe Online