March 5, 2009 / 3:25 PM / 11 years ago

INTERVIEW-Somali opposition leader vows to fight on

*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 Asmara.

"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.



WAR WORKS

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 foreign interference.

"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 colonel.

"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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