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Somali Opposition Leader Calls for African Union Troops

A Somali opposition leader is asking for the African Union to send more troops to help stabilize the country.

Islamist leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed says Saturday the additional troops will be needed now that Ethiopia has decided to withdraw its soldiers by the end of the year.

He told a meeting of senior African officials in Kenya the additional troops would be welcome.

Meanwhile, the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab is claiming responsibility for a mortar attack Saturday on a compound near the capital of Mogadishu that serves as a base for Ethiopian troops. No damage or casualties have yet been reported.

Ethiopia sent thousands of troops to support Somalia's Western-backed government, which has been fighting Islamist insurgents for two years.

The African Union already has a small peacekeeping force in Somalia.

Initial plans called for 8,000 soldiers, but the actual number of peacekeepers has been closer to 2,000.

Somalia's interim government remains heavily dependent on Ethiopian troops for protection against insurgent attacks and officials in Somalia's transitional government have been expressing concern about the Ethiopian announcement. Deputy speaker of parliament Osman Elmi Boqore says the pullout could threaten the already fragile Somali government.

A spokesman for the Islamic Courts Union told VOA he welcomes the announcement of Ethiopia's withdrawal, but he is still skeptical that the Ethiopian troops will actually pull out.

The Islamists had taken over much of southern Somalia before they were ousted in 2006. They regrouped and launched the insurgency in early 2007. President Abdullahi Yusuf recently said his government controls only two cities - Baidoa and the capital, Mogadishu.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.