Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yemen mediators work to consolidate Sanaa truce

SANAA, May 28, 2011- Tribal mediators on Saturday worked to consolidate a truce between a powerful opposition tribal chief and forces loyal to Yemen's embattled president, a close aide to the chief said.

"The mediators are continuing their efforts, but they have run into difficulties," said Abdul Qawi al-Qaisi, who heads the office of tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar.

The chief heads the powerful Hashid federation whose supporters fought security forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa this week.

Ahmar said on Friday that a truce was in effect in the capital, but Qaisi said shells had landed that night near Ahmar's residence in Al-Hasaba area, where the clashes that left dozens dead were centred.

The government is demanding Ahmar's forces relinquish public buildings they control, including the ministry of industry and trade, the ministry of tourism, the official Saba news agency, and the Higher Institute for Guidance, Qaisi said.

"In return, we demand the withdrawal of armed regime militiamen from residential buildings in which they are barricaded near Sheikh al-Ahmar's residence," he said.

Asked how long the truce would last, Qaisi said it would be "open, without a time-limit."

Ahmar in March pledged his support for anti-regime demonstrators who have since January been calling for Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, to quit office.

Clashes between Ahmar's supporters and security forces broke out on Monday, a day after Saleh refused to sign a Gulf-brokered accord that would have seen him cede power within 30 days.


Armed Group Kidnaps Three French in Hadramout Province

By Fatik Al-Rodaini
Sana'a, May 28, 2011- At least three French aid workers were kidnapped by an armed group in Yemen's southern province of Hadramout.
Sources said that two women and a man who working at an aid organization went missing on Saturday afternoon in the middle of province of Hadramout.
The French Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the three are missing but has said it is unclear whether they have been abducted.
The local official said the three work for an organization called Triangle Generation Humanitarian which has operations in Yemen including aiding Somali refugees and helping provide clean water in the southern port of Aden.
Kidnappings of Western tourists or workers by tribes seeking ransom or concessions from the government have been frequent in Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries.
Most of the hostages have been freed unharmed.

Al-Qaida declares Yemen's southern city as capital of its "Islamic Emirate": residents

SANAA, May 28 (Xinhua) -- The Yemen-based al-Qaida wing on Saturday declared the provincial capital city of southern Abyan province as the capital city of its "Islamic Emirate" in a statement the group read in front of local residents.

The al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has almost taken over all parts of Abyan province after it seized the province capital city of Zinjibar on Friday, according to the residents.

A local government official told Xinhua that the "fighters of AQAP took over the whole city of Zinjibar on Friday and on Saturday the group seized 30 police cars after two police camps surrendered to AQAP."

"They (AQAP) transported the 30 police cars to the neighbor city of Jaar, which is believed to be the stronghold of the group, " he added, requesting anonymity.

Meanwhile, a doctor of al-Razi Hospital in Jaar told Xinhua that the death toll among al-Qaida militants from the Friday's clashes with government forces rose to four as dozens of the militants were still suffering serious injuries.

Residents from several cities of Abyan said blackouts have hit the majority part of the province since earlier Friday.

An aid to the Abyan governor said the governor was not available to reach for security reasons.

Late on Friday, the AQAP militants gunned down five Yemeni policemen, including a high-ranking officer, hours after they took over several government buildings and two state-run banks in Abyan, according to a local security official.

Since the eruption of the four-month-long anti-government protests aimed at ousting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, the AQAP has launched sporadic heavy attacks on Zinjibar.

Yemen tribes, government agree to temporary truce

By AHMED AL-HAJ Associated Press

May 28, 2011

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen's government and armed tribesmen seeking President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ouster have agreed to a temporary cease-fire to allow for negotiations after five days of street clashes that killed at least 124 people, a mediator said Saturday.

There were no signs of goodwill from either side, however, to indicate the negotiations were being taken seriously. The head of Yemen's most powerful tribal federation called on the Republican Guard and other security forces to abandon Saleh and join protesters who have been calling on the ruler of nearly 33 years to step down. And the government issued an arrest warrant for the tribal leader.

In a letter to security forces, Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the Hashid tribal confederation, called on the army to help "get rid of this regime and be among the makers of the change that the people are calling for."

The cease-fire and negotiations come at a critical moment in Yemen's three-month old crisis and will likely determine whether the mostly peaceful street protests calling for change give way to more battles between security forces and tribal militias like the ones that raged in the past week.

The fighting broke out Monday after government forces attempted to storm al-Ahmar's compound in the heart of the capital, Sanaa. Armed tribesmen loyal to al-Ahmar fought back, seizing a number of government buildings.

The fighting then spread outside the capital, with tribesmen capturing two military posts north of Sanaa Saturday before the sides reached a temporary cease-fire.

One mediator said Saturday the two sides will discuss terms for a withdrawal of tribal fighters from at least nine government ministries they occupied during the fighting. The truce was set to expire Saturday evening, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media. No clashes were reported Saturday afternoon.

Even as talks were supposed to get under way, however, Yemeni authorities issued an arrest warrant for al-Ahmar and other tribal leaders.

Experts say the uprising's future will be determined by the number of tribes and security forces that turn against Saleh. Many already have, including al-Ahmar's Hashid confederation, to which Saleh's tribe belongs. Some army units have also left Saleh to back the protesters, though they have not joined the fight against his forces.

Al-Ahmar's letter — published online and read aloud and distributed at meetings with tribal leaders — called on others to leave Saleh.

"The enemy of all these people is Saleh, who has weighed heavily upon our people for all these years and confiscated the simplest of Yemeni citizens' rights to serve the interests of Saleh, his sons and his family," he wrote.

He called on soldiers not to "sacrifice themselves for one individual or family" and to stand with the people in choosing "change and the dream of a better future."

It remains unclear if al-Ahmar's letter will have any effect. Much of Saleh's power base is made up of childhood friends and family members he placed in high-level security posts, decreasing the chances of defection. Yemen's powerful Republican Guard, which al-Ahmar called on specifically, is commanded by one of Saleh's sons and has remained loyal to the president as other military units have defected.

The week's clashes followed a breakdown in efforts by Yemen's Gulf Arab neighbors to negotiate an end to the crisis. The deal would have required Saleh to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution, but he balked at signing.

The Hashid turned against Saleh two months ago, throwing its weight behind the protesters. But before this week, it had kept its well-armed fighters on the sidelines.

Yemen Clashes Spread, Raising Fears

Sana'a, May 28, 2011- By Friday evening, the fighting had ceased but dozens were dead, including four tribal leaders, with both sides vowing to fight until the end. Tribal and government sources said they expected the fighting to resume Saturday with tribes pledging to avenge "every drop of blood shed," while the government maintains its resolve to crush dissent.

Despite growing international concern, violence in Yemen has escalated after mediation efforts failed to force the Yemeni leader to resign.

Witnesses said the tribes had the upper hand in control of three military bases, and said members of the Republican Guards had disarmed and retreated. Residents of Nehem also reported terrifying scenes throughout Friday of civilian houses coming under missiles and rocket-propelled grenade attacks by the government trying to rout out militants from villages.

Nehem residents said women and children were trapped, houses reduced to rubble and many injured. San'a was quiet but very tense, residents said, adding that fear was rising that with Mr. Saleh hanging on to power, the possibility of civil war was looming.

"Our blood is not cheap and we will avenge from the government for every drop of Nehem blood that is shed," said a fighter in Nehem reached by phone on Friday.

In the past week, at least 100 people have been killed as security forces loyal to Mr. Saleh battled a tribal confederation known as the Hashid that has joined the opposition's fight against the government. The clashes started Sunday when President Saleh declined to sign the deal brokered by Arab diplomats and supported by Washington that offered him and his family immunity in return for leaving power.

The escalation in violence is changing the nature of the protests—which like Egypt started as a peaceful call for transition—to a potentially dangerous armed conflict scenario like Libya.

Yemen is a primarily tribal community, particularly in rural areas, and loyalties to tribes runs deep. The Hashid tribe, one of the most powerful, commands hundreds of thousands of Yemenis and has swiftly turned the table against Mr. Saleh.

Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmad, the head of the Hashid tribe, called on Mr.Saleh to step down on Thursday or he'd be blamed for "dragging the country to civil war."

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Yemen on brink of civil war as fighting worsens

By Samia Nakhoul and Mohammed Ghobari

May 28, 2011

SANAA, Yemen —Yemeni tribesmen said fierce fighting to control three military posts killed 19 of their people and wounded dozens in a region south of Sanaa on Friday as clashes threatening to spark civil war spread outside the capital.

“There had been some skirmishes between the tribesmen supporting the youth revolution from time to time, but today it became a big armed confrontation,” said Hamid Asim, a tribal leader from the Nahm region.

In Sanaa, tens of thousands of people gathered after Friday prayers for what they said would be a “Friday of Peaceful Revolution” against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, releasing white doves and carrying the coffins of about 30 people killed in clashes this week.

But the turnout for the rally, inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, was lower than in previous weeks. Many people have fled Sanaa, and the government closed roads around the capital to keep out tribes trying to reinforce the Hashed tribe, led by Sadiq al-Ahmar, which has been battling forces in the city that are loyal to Saleh.

Machine-gun fire rattled across Sanaa, and sporadic explosions were heard near a protest site where thousands of people demanding Saleh’s departure are still camped.

Fighting eased off later Friday after mediation efforts under which the Ahmar tribe evacuated government ministry buildings they had seized during clashes this week in return for a cease-fire and troops’ pulling out from their area.

“We are now in mediation, and there has been a cease-fire between the two sides,” Ahmar told protesters in Change Square. “But if Ali Abdullah Saleh returns [to fighting], then we are ready.”

The weeklong battles, the worst since unrest erupted in January, have enabled Saleh to recapture the initiative in the standoff, with the threat of civil war overshadowing the protest movement. But many protesters remained determined to see him out.

“We are here to renew our resolve for a peaceful revolution,” Yahya Abdulla said at the anti-Saleh camp. “We reject violence or being dragged into civil war.”

Worries are growing that Yemen, already a safe haven for al-Qaeda and on the verge of financial ruin, could deteriorate into a failed state that would erode regional security and pose a serious risk to its neighbor Saudi Arabia, the world’s No. 1 oil exporter.

— Reuters