Reports in Somalia say that a coalition of groups opposed to Somalia's struggling transitional government and its Ethiopian backers has been formed with the support of the Eritrean government. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
VOA has learned that a yet-to-be-named, anti-Somali government, anti-Ethiopian coalition was formed in late May at a conference, hosted by the Eritrean government in the capital, Asmara.
According to reports on Somali Internet websites, the conference, dubbed as a "unity meeting" by Eritrean President Isias Afewerki, brought together leaders and representatives of at least four groups - Somalia's Islamic Courts Union, rebels from Ethiopia's Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front, and exiled former parliament members of the Somali transitional government.
The reports say the moderate leader of the Islamic Courts Union's executive council, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, represented the courts at the meeting and the Ogaden National Liberation Front sent its chief military commander, Mohamed Omar Osman. The transitional government's former deputy prime minister turned critic, Hussein Aideed, is said to have also attended.
The details of the conference are not known and neither the Somali nor the Ethiopian government has commented yet about reports of the meeting.
VOA sources in Mogadishu have confirmed reports that Sheik Ahmed has been named head of the coalition's political wing and Osman of the Ogaden National Liberation Front will lead its military wing. The presumed objective of the coalition is to bring its common enemy, Ethiopia, to its knees politically and economically and to hasten Ethiopian troop withdrawal from Somalia.
Thousands of Ethiopian soldiers have been in Somalia for at least eight months, protecting Somalia's secular interim government. With military aid from Ethiopia and U.S. support, the government drove out the Islamic Courts Union and took power in Mogadishu in early January.
But a violent insurgency, blamed mostly on radical Islamists and disgruntled Hawiye clan members, has kept the government from asserting full control over the capital.
Fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents in March and April killed nearly 1,500 people and caused hundreds of thousands to flee Mogadishu.
Since then, a series of Iraq-style attacks, targeting mostly Ethiopian troops and government officials, has prompted a severe, capital-wide security crackdown.
Ethiopian troops are now manning checkpoints at nearly every major intersection and cars are not allowed to move in the city after 6 p.m. in the evening.
Ethiopian and Somali security forces are conducting random house-to-house searches for weapons and are making what many citizens say are arbitrary arrests.
The government has also been widely criticized for closing down three independent radio stations, after authorities accused the stations of fomenting unrest, supporting terrorism, and being anti-government.
A leading civil activist in Mogadishu, Alisaid Omar, says heavy-handed actions by the government and Ethiopian troops are not helping the capital stabilize.
"Shutting down these radios is like shutting down civil society as a whole, because we have no place to express our views, whether negative or positive," he said. "I see this as a very bad signal and I think it will damage the reputation of the transitional federal government."
The news reports of a new coalition that seeks to undermine Ethiopia and the government it supports has many Somalis here even more concerned about the future.