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Opponents of Somalia's Transitional Government to Hold Conference


Opponents of Somalia's Western-backed transitional government have announced they will hold a conference in Eritrea in September to form a coalition whose main objective is to end Ethiopia's occupation of Somalia. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi reports the conference is also aimed at challenging the interim government's contention that it enjoys the support of the majority of the Somali people.

A prominent Somali politician, Jama Ali Jama, tells VOA that the organizers of the September 1 conference in Asmara hope to draw as many people as possible from every corner of the globe.

Jama says the conference is being largely funded by donations from Somalis living overseas and by business owners from across Somalia who are eager to support any effort to bring lasting peace and security to the troubled country.

"The conference is intended to unite all Somali communities, individuals, who are against the occupation of their country and are ready to liberate their country. Anyone who is willing to support that mission is welcome from inside the country and abroad," he said.

Jama Ali Jama was elected president of Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland in 2001 and was overthrown six months later by the current Somali interim President Abdullahi Yusuf.

Jama is now one of nearly three dozen Somali parliamentarians, who make up one of the core Somali groups opposed to the government and its close political and military alliance with Somalia's traditional rival, Ethiopia.

In late December, Ethiopia led the massive military offensive that ended the six-month rule of Somalia's Islamic Courts Union and installed the interim government in Mogadishu.

In recent months, ousted Islamists and former parliament members have issued joint statements against Ethiopia and the interim government from their opposition base in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

Eritrea is widely accused by the West of fighting a proxy war against its arch enemy, Ethiopia, by funding and facilitating activities to destabilize Somalia's interim government.

But Jama vigorously defends Eritrea's role, saying the government there is providing only political assistance to Somali opposition groups.

The announcement of the Asmara conference comes just three days ahead of the expected start of national reconciliation talks in Mogadishu hosted by the interim government.

Analysts say the timing of the opposition announcement is significant because the reconciliation meeting, aimed at ending Somalia's 16-year-old civil war, has been criticized by many Somalis as being nothing more than a get-together of clan-based supporters anxious to secure lucrative positions in government.

Western analysts say if the conference in Eritrea draws more people than the reconciliation talks in Mogadishu, that could embarrass the government, which has insisted that anti-government insurgents are small in number and lack popular support.

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