September 14, 2011 (AFP)
ADEN — Mediation efforts have failed to end the battles between the army and Al-Qaeda suspects raging for over three months in Yemen's south as one soldier was killed in the latest fighting, military officials said Wednesday.
"The mediation has failed because of the army's refusal" to withdraw from "the important parts of Zinjibar it controls," an army officer who requested anonymity told AFP.
Another military official General Mohsen al-Balaidi told AFP that "the armed men who have named themselves Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia or Islamic law) have set unacceptable conditions" to end the fighting."
He said the extremists have demanded the army withdraw from Zinjibar to the village of Dofas, further south.
Meanwhile, "one soldier was killed and seven others were wounded in clashes" late Tuesday in Zinjibar, capital of Abyan province, said a military official, and a medical official confirmed.
The army on Tuesday raided positions held by the Islamist extremists across the city of Zinjibar, the site of fierce fighting since Al-Qaeda linked militants took over most of it late in May, the military official said.
The Yemeni government announced on Saturday that troops had liberated Zinjibar from the militants.
But military officials later told AFP that parts of the city remained in militant hands and witnesses said that dozens more militants arrived in Zinjibar from the nearby town of Jaar on Monday.
Since anti-government protests swept Yemen in late January, militants have taken advantage of the weakening of central authority to set up base in several southern provinces as well as Maarib province in the east.
Washington and other Western governments have repeatedly expressed growing concern about the role Al-Qaeda might play in Yemen if the regime of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh collapses and a power vacuum ensues.
Newly appointed CIA director David Petraeus said Tuesday that, even as Al-Qaeda faces unprecedented pressure elsewhere, its Yemen-based branch "has emerged as the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad," benefiting from turmoil in the impoverished Arab nation.
Since May, Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has pushed back Yemeni government forces in the south and political upheaval has "helped AQAP co-opt local tribes and extend its influence," he told lawmakers.
At least 230 Yemeni soldiers and 50 tribal auxiliaries have been killed in the battle for Zinjibar, the defence ministry said on Sunday.