Wednesday, September 21, 2011

UN chief condemns use of excessive force against unarmed protesters in Yemen

By BNO News

September 21, 2011

UNITED NATIONS (BNO NEWS) -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday condemned the "excessive use of force" by Yemeni security forces against unarmed protesters, resulting in scores of people being killed in the past few days.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Ban called on the country's authorities to protect civilians and uphold their obligations under international law. Dozens of people have been killed and scores injured in the past days after troops loyal to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire on protesters in the capital Sanaa.

According to Amnesty International, around 26 people were killed and hundreds injured on Sunday after security forces used snipers and rocket-propelled grenades against protesters demanding the resignation of President Saleh. The continuing violence was more victims in Sanaa on Monday, the rights group said.

UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang said on Monday that the Yemeni Government could not use its contention that it was fighting terrorists and supporters of the Al-Qaida movement as a pretext to attack peaceful demonstrators. She told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that a mission from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had identified serious violations including arbitrary arrest, cases of torture and withholding of medical treatment as reprisals for taking part in the protests.

Amnesty International called on the UN Human Rights Council, which is debating the situation in Yemen, to urge the Yemeni authorities to order the security forces to immediately cease their use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters. More than 1,500 people are estimated to have been killed as a result of the uprising which began in February.

Yemeni truce breached by shelling, 3 killed

AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni government forces on Wednesday fired mortars at tens of thousands of mourners at funerals held for protesters killed in clashes, shattering a cease-fire negotiated a day earlier to end the Arab nation's latest bout of deadly violence. The shelling killed three people and wounded at least 16.
The mourners were gathered for funeral prayers for anti-government protesters killed in a deadly, three-day government crackdown in which the death toll topped 80 — a sudden spike in violence explained by protesters' impatience with their longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who they say is dragging his feet instead of signing a deal to step down.
Also in Sanaa, the headquarters of the renegade 1st Armored Division came under heavy shelling from government forces.
The officials said the shelling targeted a part of Change Square, where protesters have camped out since February to demand the ouster of Saleh, in power since 1978.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
The 1st Armored Division, one of Yemen's most combat tested military outfits, mutinied in March to join the opposition. It is led by Saleh's one-time confidant and war veteran Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
The targeting of the division's headquarters is the latest indication that the fight over control of the Yemeni capital will primarily pit the rebel unit against the elite Republican Guards, led by Ali's son and one-time heir apparent Ahmed. Both sides claim about 20,000 fighters inside the capital, but the Guards have superior weaponry. Military experts say the final showdown between them would be won by the side that shows better urban warfare techniques.
Gulf and U.N. mediators appear to have given up on persuading Yemen's opposition and the government to talk about their transition plan, which has been on the table for months. It would allow Saleh to resign in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Saleh has come close to signing several times, only to pull back at the last minute.
Saleh is still in Saudi Arabia, where he went for treatment after suffering severe wounds in an attack on his Sanaa compound in June. Last week, he mandated his vice president to negotiate over the plan proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a loose six-nation alliance of energy-rich nations, and backed by the United States.
The opposition rejected his move as more stalling.
Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, the GCC's general-secretary, abruptly left Yemen Wednesday, according to a Yemeni government official. Al-Zayani's departure came shortly after meeting with Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The resumption of violence on Wednesday followed a brief lull that allowed Sanaa residents to venture out from their homes morning to buy food and other supplies. Many hurried back home as an outburst of heavy gunfire rang out from an area close to the residence of the vice president.
Yemen's turmoil began in February as the unrest spreading throughout the Arab world set off largely peaceful protests in the deeply impoverished and unstable corner of the Arabian Peninsula that is also home to an al-Qaida offshoot blamed for several nearly successful attempts to attack the United States.
The government has responded with a heavy crackdown, with hundreds killed and thousands wounded.

Truce Slows Fighting in Yemen’s Capital


September 21, 2011

SANA, Yemen — A cease-fire announced by the government late Tuesday appeared to have dampened fighting in the capital on Wednesday, but explosions and gunfire could still be heard in what has shaped up to be the most violent period of this impoverished country’s prolonged political crisis. News agencies reported at least three more deaths.

“The armed and security forces have committed to Vice President Abdo Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi’s directives to a cease-fire in the capital, Sana,” a statement from the official Saba news agency Web site said.

Shelling was noticeably less intense than the previous two days, but news agencies quoting medical officials reported between three and five new deaths, adding to the nearly 60 killed in the violence since Sunday. The majority of the dead were antigovernment protesters.

Mr. Hadi, who announced the cease-fire, is seen as weaker than the leaders of Yemen’s divided armed forces who are fighting in the capital, adding to concern that the accord would not hold.

The office of Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, a powerful military commander who has aligned himself with antigovernment protesters and is battling loyalist forces, did not answer inquiries about their response to the cease-fire, but some local news reports quoted officials from General Ahmar’s First Armored Division as saying that they also are abiding by the decision to halt fighting.

On Tuesday, street battles raged for a third day the capital. A dozen protesters were killed as the conflict between government security forces and soldiers loyal to General Ahmar threatened to derail hopes for a resolution of the nation’s months-long political stalemate.

Doctors at a field hospital at the site of an antigovernment sit-in said the protesters had been killed by live ammunition, mortar fire and heavy artillery.

That brought the death toll since fighting broke out in Sana on Sunday to nearly 60, making the past three days the most violent in the city since the beginning of the uprising against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in January.

The violence erupted on Sunday after antigovernment protesters marched outside the protected area of their sit-in. In response, security forces and armed government supporters fired at the thousands of demonstrators, using heavy-caliber machine guns.

That, in turn, ignited fighting between government forces and troops loyal to General Ahmar, who defected and whose forces have been protecting the protesters for months. The forces loyal to the government are controlled by the president’s relatives.

It was an outcome many had feared since General Ahmar announced his support for the protest movement in March. The two sides had been at a standoff ever since, with each controlling portions of Sana.

Before the outbreak of fighting on Sunday, members of Yemen’s governing party and the political opposition had seemed to be moving closer to an agreement on a transfer of power. A United Nations envoy, Jamal Benomar, and the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional bloc, arrived in Sana on Monday to oversee such an agreement. There had been anticipation that a political compromise would lead to a presidential election and the creation of a coalition government.

By Tuesday night, however, a senior member of the governing party said the negotiations had “stagnated as a result of the conflict.”

Yassin Saeed Noman, who is the leader of an opposition bloc known as the Joint Meetings Parties, appeared to reject the idea of negotiations altogether unless Mr. Saleh or his deputy, Mr. Hadi, first signed an initiative to transfer power. Mr. Saleh is in Saudi Arabia recuperating from injuries he sustained in a bombing at the presidential compound more than three months ago.

“They have to say that we accept the initiative,” Mr. Noman said, referring to the agreement to transfer power. “Then we can talk about the implementing mechanisms.”

“They don’t want to solve the problem peacefully,” he added. “They think they can overcome all others by using weapons. That’s why I think the international community should condemn what is happening.”

The comments represented a shift in position for Mr. Noman, who is seen as a moderate among the political opposition.

Major thoroughfares in Sana were relatively empty on Tuesday, and many stores were closed. Few women were seen on the streets, as the sound of explosions could be heard in the distance. Near an area known as the Kentucky roundabout, government forces fought with soldiers belonging to the First Armored Division.

The division had taken over a strategic intersection just south of the protesters’ sit-in on Sunday night, but by Tuesday afternoon the area was clearly in the hands of government forces.

Soldiers sat on armored personnel carriers, while troops from the republican guards sat along the street with bazookas at their sides. Armed men in civilian clothes controlled intersections. Large pieces of buildings were missing, dislodged by artillery attacks.

Several mortar shells fell on the protest area on Tuesday, witnesses said.

In another development, a doctor in the central city of Taiz said a civilian had been killed overnight by shelling.

“They are not targeting any place,” the doctor, Abdul-Rahim al-Samie, said in a telephone interview. “They are not targeting armed people. They are shooting different houses. Different areas. It was really horrible.”

Taiz has been rocked for months by conflict between government forces and protesters. Shelling takes place almost nightly, residents said.

“We are expecting our lives to end any moment,” Dr. Samie said. “Some of the shells dropped very close to my house this morning.”

America's Secret War Expands to Drone Bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula

September 21, 2011

The Obama administration is constructing a network of drone strike bases in Africa and the Arabian peninsula as its broadening campaign against al-Qaida affiliates reaches increasingly into Yemen and Somalia.

A new bases will be constructed in Ethiopia, supplementing installations in the Seychelles and the tiny African nation of Djibouti, The Washington Post reported. Obama has already authorized drone strikes against Islamic militants in Yemen and Somalia, and the proliferation of bases in the region underscore the extent to which Yemen and Somalia, both highly volatile countries plagued by disintegrating civil order, have become new focal points for counterterrorism.

"It's a conscious recognition that those are the hot spots developing right now," a former senior U.S. military official told the Post.

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks detailed how U.S. officials won permission from Seychelles President James Michel to maintain a small fleet of Reaper drones there. Both American and Seychellois officials have publicly maintained that the drones are unarmed and are used purely for counter-piracy surveillance, but a diplomatic cable reveals that American diplomats explicitly told Seychellois leaders that the Reapers would be used to bolster counter-terrorism efforts in Somalia.

Drone Use Increases

With the Obama administration expanding its use of targeted drone strikes and special operations raids in Yemen and Somalia, its legal team has become embroiled in a debate over how much authority the U.S. has to kill militants there. Current administration policy is to kill only "high-value" leaders, but there is discussion over whether rank-and-file militants can be targeted. Officials are also weighing the extent to which any given mission must be justified by an explicit threat to the United States, as opposed to an open-ended battle with Islamic militants.

"It's a tangled mess because the law is unsettled," Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the laws of war, told The New York Times. "Do the rules vary from location to location? Does the armed conflict exist only in the current combat zone, such as Afghanistan, or does it follow wherever participants may go? Who counts as a party to the conflict? There's a lot at stake in these debates."

Deadly Yemen clashes as protester funerals held

By the CNN Wire Staff

September 21, 2011

(CNN) -- Opposition forces mourned their dead Wednesday, as 30 of the 83 protesters medical sources say were killed this week by government forces were buried.

Senior members of the opposition were among more than 500,000 opposition supporters to attend the funerals, witnesses said.

Five more protesters were killed by government forces Wednesday in Change Square in the capital, Sanaa, a medical team in the square said.

One died in a rocket explosion, the medical team said, and the other four were shot by snipers, according to at least seven eyewitnesses. Nine others were injured, the medical team said.

The renewed violence, with clashes reported in half a dozen different areas of Sanaa, comes less than 12 hours after a call from the country's Vice President Abdu Rabu Hadi for a cease-fire from all sides.

At least five rockets exploded near the entrance to Change Square at 2 p.m. local time, witnesses said.

The base of defected Gen. Ali Mohsen is under heavy bombardment, with smoke in the air and fires visible inside the compound after an ongoing attack lasting more than an hour.

Mohsen defected from the Yemeni military in March and since then has joined protesters demanding an end to the decades-long rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Wednesday's deaths follow those of more than 80 people in clashes from Sunday to Tuesday, according to medical officials.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has pleaded for calm in Yemen, which is facing an "unprecedented level of violence," it said Tuesday.

The ICRC is "deeply concerned" by the "significant loss of life that has occurred in the last 72 hours," it said in a statement Tuesday.

At least 25 people were killed in clashes Tuesday, medics said. Thirty-one people were killed Monday -- 28 in Sanaa and three in Taiz, according to medical officials. On Sunday, at least 26 protesters were killed and more than 550 were wounded -- hundreds of them by gunshots -- when security forces fired live bullets and tear gas at a massive demonstration in the city, a medic said.

Abdul Rahman Barman, the executive director of a local human rights organization, said Saleh's regime does not differentiate between civilians, protesters or gunmen.

"All are targets for the oppressive Saleh regime," Barman said.

Government spokesman Abdu Ganadi said that "government troops are attacking armed militants who claim to be unarmed."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the violence and called on all those involved in it to exercise restraint.

The violence has triggered a new wave of international pressure on Yemen.

An official with the human rights group Amnesty International said the country was on a "knife edge" and the situation could spiral into a civil war.

Officials from the United Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council were in Sanaa Monday, hoping to help organize a peaceful transfer of power.

The Yemeni government has repeatedly denied accusations of excessive use of force, and said the government is committed to establishing a peaceful transfer of power. Yemeni officials have said forces cracked down on those committing acts of violence during protests.