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Somali Opposition Group Says It's Targeting Ethiopian Troops

The spokesman for the new Eritrea-based Somali opposition alliance tells VOA that the group's Islamist-led forces are in an all-out war against Ethiopian troops in Somalia in a bid to oust the Ethiopians from the country. The attacks have triggered some of the heaviest fighting the Somali capital Mogadishu has seen in recent weeks. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

In a telephone interview with VOA from Asmara, the spokesman for the nearly two-week old Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, Zakariya Mahamud Abdi, says alliance fighters are concentrating their efforts on targeting Ethiopian troops, whom the opposition group accuses of being an occupying force that protects an illegitimate government.

"We are attacking the Ethiopian occupation in Mogadishu," said Abdi. "Wherever and whenever there is an Ethiopian soldier on the soil of Somalia, we will attack them until we liberate our country from their occupation."

It is not yet clear if alliance fighters are the same Islamist-led insurgents, who have been attacking Ethiopian troop positions, military bases, and convoys in Somalia for the past nine months.

The spokesman for the opposition alliance declined to comment on speculation that the group has not recruited new fighters, but is most likely providing guidance and greater coordination to the insurgency.

The insurgency began shortly after Ethiopian troops helped Somalia's U.N.-backed interim government seize power from Islamists, whose leadership allegedly includes men with ties to the al-Qaida terror network.

One of those leaders is Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, the radical religious leader of Somalia's Islamic Courts movement. He was present in Asmara earlier this month, when hundreds of delegates, representing Islamists, former parliament members, and the Somali diaspora, gathered to form the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.

The delegates chose a more moderate Islamist leader, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, to lead the group. But the alliance's militant stance on the crisis in Somalia has western diplomats deeply concerned that the insurgency could grow stronger and irreversibly defeat efforts to achieve political reconciliation and end 16 years of civil war.

On Monday, Islamist-led insurgents reportedly killed at least four Somali government soldiers and wounded three others after ambushing a military base in north Mogadishu.

A day earlier, insurgents fought with Ethiopian and Somali troops in the same area, pounding each other with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft rockets for several hours.

It is not known how many Ethiopian troops have been killed by insurgents since January in Somalia. Although estimates range from several hundred to several thousand, the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa has never released official casualty figures.

Humanitarian workers and human rights activists have condemned the on-going violence, which has taken an appalling toll on the country and the civilian population, especially in the capital. Several thousand people have been killed in Mogadishu and more than 350,000 others displaced.