In a worrying sign that insurgent violence in the Somali capital could escalate further, the deputy chairman of the Eritrea-based Somali opposition group tells VOA that well armed rebels are prepared to step up attacks against Ethiopian troops in the city. The comments follow reports that hundreds of additional Ethiopian troops have poured into Mogadishu in recent days to bolster government soldiers battling an Islamist-led insurgency. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
The First Deputy Chairman of the recently-formed opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, Zakaria Mahamud Abdi, spoke to VOA from an undisclosed location near the Somali capital.
Abdi says the numerous convoys of Ethiopian military vehicles and heavily-armed troops seen moving into Mogadishu since Saturday have boosted the morale of the rebels, who launched a new offensive against Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu late last month.
"It shows that the Ethiopians are desperate," said Abdi. "It means they cannot manage the situation. The regime in Addis Ababa thinks that Somalis will be subdued by their military machine. I assure you it will never happen. We have freedom fighters who are fighting the occupation of the Ethiopians. Ethiopians will be the ones, who will be compelled to retreat and withdraw."
Week-long gun battles and artillery duels, at times matching the intensity of the fighting that destroyed parts of the city in March and April of this year, have killed and wounded scores of people and have sent as many as 90,000 residents fleeing to safety.
Many have reportedly joined hundreds of thousands of other residents who fled earlier battles in squalid camps on the outskirts of the capital.
Abdi says he regrets the civilian casualties and suffering, but he blames Somalia's historical enemy, Ethiopia, for the violence that began in February, shortly after the Ethiopian military defeated Somalia's ruling Islamic Courts Union and installed the country's internationally recognized but unpopular transitional federal government in its place.
Some Ethiopian troops have been accused of committing serious crimes and mistreating Somalis, further fueling the insurgency.
Abdi declined to say whether the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia - made up of exiled Islamist leaders, former interim parliament and Somali diaspora members - is involved in coordinating insurgent activities in Mogadishu or how many fighters the group controls.
But he says that alliance fighters are ordinary citizens and not radical members of the Shabbab, which has carried out many of the numerous suicide attacks, roadside bombings and assassinations of government officials.
Shabbab fighters, led by men trained by al-Qaida and the Taliban, are fighting not only to throw Ethiopians out of Somalia, but to return the country to strict, Islamic rule.
The spokesman for Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wahide Belay, would not comment on Ethiopian troop reinforcements in Mogadishu.
But he denied that Somali insurgent groups have popular support.
"Of course, they are doing their terrorist acts, attacking here and there, hiding here and there," said Belay. "That is true. But that does not show they are getting stronger and stronger. We are getting reports that people are working very closely with the TFG [transitional federal government] forces and our security forces to secure their environment and everything. So, we hope that in the very near future, we will be able, with the TFG forces, to wipe out those insurgents, who are hiding in some parts of Mogadishu."
Ethiopia has said that it wants to pull its troops out of Somalia, but will only do so when a full contingent of peacekeepers from the African Union can replace them.
Only 1,600 soldiers from Uganda are in Somalia so far, leaving a shortfall of 6,400 troops.