Sunday, September 11, 2011

Two soldiers die in southern Yemen clash

September 11, 2011

Two Yemeni soldiers were killed and four others wounded Sunday when a mine exploded in the southern city of Zinjibar where troops have been fighting to expel Al-Qaeda-linked militants, a military official said.

The Yemeni government announced on Saturday the army had "liberated" Zinjibar, capital of the southern province of Abyan, which was seized in May by a militant group called the Partisans of Sharia, believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda.

A Yemeni military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the two soldiers were killed "when a mine planted by Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants exploded in eastern Zinjibar."

He added that the army had only reclaimed control of the northern and eastern parts of the city, contradicting official government reports that they had retaken the entire town.

The casualty toll from the mine explosion was confirmed by medical officials.

The military official said intermittent clashes continued throughout Zinjibar on Sunday, despite the army's claim that most militants had already fled the city to the nearby town of Jaar, another militant stronghold.

He said the army was reluctant to enter the city center because of concerns that the fleeing militants may have planted mines before withdrawing.

Southern Yemen has seen a sharp rise in violence since mass anti-government protests threw into question the entrenched presidency of Ali Abdullah Saleh and weakened the central government.

In May, militants linked to Al-Qaeda seized control of three towns in Abyan, and since then, government troops and dissident fighters have been fighting to take them back.

The violence has displaced more than 100,000 Yemenis in the south in recent months, according to the United Nations.

French skipper killed by pirates off Yemen

September 11, 2011- (AFP)

MARSEILLE — The French skipper of a yacht found abandoned in the Gulf of Aden died during a pirate attack, a source close to the family said Sunday, the day after the dead man's wife was found unharmed.

Christian and Evelyne Colombo's family was informed overnight that the 55-year-old was killed during the attack and his body thrown overboard before the crewless catamaran was found on Thursday, the same source said.

A German warship found the couple's catamaran, the Tribal Kat, adrift in waters off Yemen on Thursday after it broadcast a mayday appeal for help.

There were signs of struggle and no one was on board, prompting the EU Atalanta naval command to launch an air and sea search for the attackers.

The French frigate Surcouf then detected a suspect vessel and on Saturday the Spanish warship SPS Galicia chased it down, storming the skiff, rescuing Colombo's widow and arresting seven alleged pirates.

The Spanish defense ministry said when the skiff ignored an order to stop, the commander of the Galicia ordered his men to open fire. "At that time, it was discovered that they had a hostage on board, who was a woman," it said.

"The amphibious ship proceeded to intercept the pirate vessel. The operation involved a helicopter and naval warfare team, who fired on the engine of the boat, to disable it."

A spokesman for Operation Atalanta, Commander Harrie Harrison, declined to confirm the death, saying they were waiting to be briefed by Evelyne Colombo.

"He is missing," Harrison said. "We believe he may have died during the assault but we are waiting for the lady to brief us."

A source close to the search said authorities were trying to find the dead skipper's body.

Christian Colombo was a former French navy crewman and the couple were experienced sailors who wanted to see the world and were passing through the Gulf of Aden en route for the Indian Ocean and eventually Thailand.

"They knew they were taking a risk and everyone advised them not to go," a relative told AFP on Saturday. One of the couple's daughters, Emilie, posted a message of concern on the blog they were keeping of their high seas adventure.

"The last I heard from Christian was around a month ago. He was south of Egypt and heading for Malaysia," said the skipper's friend Gerard Navarin, who once helped him set a catamaran speed record off Toulon.

The waters between Yemen and Somalia are notorious for attacks by pirate gangs, and French yachts have been among the vessels seized in the past. A second yacht went missing at around the same time as the Tribal Kat.

Somali pirates frequently seize crew from merchant ships and pleasure craft in the dangerous waters off the conflict-ravaged Horn of Africa and have taken millions of dollars in ransom for their release.

According to the watchdog Ecoterra, at least 50 vessels and at least 528 hostages are being held by Somali pirates, despite constant patrols by warships from several world powers.

A French couple was kidnapped from a yacht in September 2008 as it headed through the Gulf of Aden. A ransom was paid, but French commandos later ambushed the pirates, killed one, captured six more and recovered the cash.

In April 2009, another French yacht was seized. This time special forces troops intervened when the boat was still at sea. In the ensuing gunbattle a French bullet accidentally killed the hostage skipper.

In addition, a French DGSE agent is thought to have been held hostage by Islamist militants in the Somali capital since July 2009.

Yemen dissidents accuse Saleh loyalists of shelling

September 11, 2011- (AFP)

SANAA — Dissident troops loyal to a Yemeni general who defected to join anti-government protesters have accused the elite Republican Guard of shelling one of their positions in the capital, an officer said.

A dissident officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sunday that the artillery fire was aimed at raising tensions ahead of a meeting later on Sunday of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Saudi port city of Jeddah.

"They fired four tank shells at one of our positions," on a main Sanaa boulevard, the officer from the First Armoured Division loyal to dissident General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar told AFP.

"They want to escalate tensions in the capital before the meeting," the officer added.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Sunday's meeting of the six-nation Gulf bloc was expected to address the growing political uncertainty in Yemen and the prospects for a GCC plan for ending the deadlock that has so far been rejected by veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Despite months of protests, Saleh, who has been receiving treatment in neighbouring Saudi Arabia for the past three months for blast wounds he sustained in a bombing at the presidential palace, has so far refused to hand power to his deputy.

The stalemate has led to mounting fears of an all out military confrontation between the Republican Guards, who are under commanded by Saleh's eldest son, Ahmed, and Ahmar's dissident troops.

Last week, the Guards reinforced their presence in the capital, deploying tanks and missile launchers on the hills overlooking it.

At the same time, Ahmar's First Armoured Brigade troops, who are fewer in number and less well-armed, fortified their positions in dissident-held areas of the capital, primarily around University Square where protesters have been camping for months.

Armed civilians have also been seen on both sides of Zubair Street, the dividing line between the areas controlled by government forces and those held by the opposition.