From: Biniam Haile \(SWE\) (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Mar 05 2009 - 09:56:31 EST
INTERVIEW-Somali opposition leader vows to fight on
05 Mar 2009 14:32:10 GMT
*Somali opposition brands new president an Ethiopian stooge
*Vow to fight on for Islamic law
*Opposition says Somali conflict "a religious war"
By Abdiaziz Hassan
NAIROBI, March 5 (Reuters) - Somalia's new president is another
Ethiopian stooge, a traitor to Islamists and his opponents will battle
until they impose Islamic law, opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir
Aweys said in an interview.
Aweys, 62, a former chairman of the Islamic Courts Union that ruled
Mogadishu in 2006, is now leader of the hardline wing of the Alliance
for the Re-Liberation of Somalia based in neighbouring Eritrea -- a
group known as ARS Asmara.
Aweys worked alongside the country's moderate Islamist president, Sheikh
Sharif Ahmed, in the Islamic Courts and they founded the ARS after
Ethiopian troops ousted them from power.
But they split when Ahmed, who was always seen as the more moderate
Islamist leader, moved to Djibouti to take part in the U.N.-hosted peace
process that saw him elected president.
"We are not the opposition. We are freedom fighters. There is no Somali
government we recognise in Somalia, where we only want a change in the
system. These men are traitors," Aweys told Reuters by telephone from
"Ethiopia blindly supported and praised Sharif, and that shows the
country is still run by Ethiopians and their agents, and that is why we
are fighting," he said.
"They are fighting to stop any group that can employ sharia law in
Somalia, so this is a religious war. When invaders come in and try to
force you to leave our religion, reject your nationhood and
independence, and take your resources illegally, there is no option left
but to fight," he said.
Ahmed has pledged to implement a moderate version of sharia law in
Somalia and reach out to the Islamist groups that had been fighting
Ethiopian troops until they withdrew in January.
The United Nations and Western countries which were once wary of
Islamists being in power now see Ahmed as the best option for bringing
peace to Somalia after 18 years of violence.
Aweys dismissed the new president's pledges, saying they were just
designed to hoodwink poor Somalis and that he would never be allowed to
follow them through by foreign powers.
"We are not listening to what he is saying on the media, but we are
truly looking at if what he said is possible," said Aweys. "I do not
think that his supporters and the government itself can accept the law
of this country to be sharia."
Aweys said talk of peace by the new administration was just designed to
confuse the public, when war could bring results and rid Somalia of
"The enemy uses this policy when they occupy a nation. They repeatedly
call for talks, and they never establish a comprehensive environment for
real talks when it comes to solving conflicts," said the former army
"The most important thing people need is freedom. The houses can be
rebuilt, but a beautiful house without freedom is worthless," he said.
Ahmed's aides say if Aweys is not ready for talks with the government
now, he should set up a political movement within Somalia and contest
elections, rather than continuing to fight.
Aweys is on Washington's list of foreign terrorists -- as is the
hardline Islamist rebel group al Shabaab which controls much of southern
and central Somalia.
Ahmed has been pushing to have Aweys removed from the list.
Washington suspects Somalia's hardline Islamists of having links to al
Qaeda and fears the Horn of Africa nation could be used by foreign
groups to destabilise the region.
Asked whether he had connections to Osama bin Laden's group, Aweys said:
"No one can question who I have relations with."
"The reason we are fighting is to get freedom so we can have relations
with everyone we think is the right person." (Editing by David Clarke)
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