Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yemen faces critical period to cement political settlement: UN envoy

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 22 (APP): The next few weeks will be critical as Yemen seeks to address its political, security and humanitarian challenges, a UN envoy has stressed, adding that the support of the international community will be vital to the transition process.“Now is not the time for complacency,” Jamal Benomar, the Secretary General’s Special Adviser for Yemen, told reporters in New York after briefing the Security Council behind closed doors on Wednesday. Warring factions in Yemen signed an agreement last month on a transitional settlement under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to hand over power to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi. A new Government of National Unity was sworn in and presidential elections have been scheduled for 21 February.
“The situation in Yemen remains highly fragile, and the political agreement will be impossible to implement without the continuous commitment and cooperation of political and other leaders throughout the country,” said Benomar,who just returned from his seventh visit there.
“I remain hopeful, despite the many challenges that lie ahead, that the agreement provides for new, inclusive institutions and processes, and opens the way for reform that can meet expectations of those calling for change,” he stated.
He said the next 60 days, leading up to the polls, will be fraught with challenges and “ups and downs” and now is the time for the international community to scale up its support to Yemen’s recovery.
The UN, for its part, has deployed electoral experts to assist during this critical period. Overall, he reported that the process is moving forward and the agreement is being implemented. The Government has already taken action to restore peace and stability, including the removal of barricades and checkpoints and the withdrawal of armed groups from public and private facilities.
“Serious commitment from all sides will be required to make these inroads to stability a success,” said Benomar, who noted that the UN will continue its close engagement and monitor progress.
“We want to see a Yemen where the streets belong to the people, not to the militia. We want to see Yemenis able to go about their daily lives and grow their communities, where civic leaders are the ones shaping the future of the country, not those with arms,” he stated.
He added that the Security Council is following the situation in Yemen closely.“Indeed, the world is watching the peace process in Yemen and there will be consequences for those who think they may derail the peace process.” He stressed that the continuous engagement of all actors will be critical and
long-term stability will depend on the success of a genuinely participatory process.
“The international community has pressed hard for the sides to reach a political settlement and these calls have been heeded. Now donors have to back up their calls for reform by providing the support that is needed to implement the agreement and see the country through this transition period.”

Yemen president 'to seek medical treatment abroad'

December 22, 2011
Yemen's president is expected to leave the country for more medical treatment for injuries suffered in an attack on his palace in June, a UN envoy says.
Veteran leader Abdullah Ali Saleh earlier spent three months recuperating in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Saleh signed a peace deal last month after a government crackdown on months of protests left hundreds dead.
Under the deal he agreed to transfer power to his deputy, and formally to stand down in February.
Observers say there had been concern that Mr Saleh would try to avoid leaving office on time, but his medical condition may now force his departure.
'Fraught with difficulties'
"My understanding is that President Saleh still requires serious medical treatment and medical treatment that he will require outside of Yemen," UN special envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council.
"Efforts are being made for arrangements to be concluded for him to get this treatment," he said.
President Saleh is due to give up his presidential title at the next elections under an agreement brokered by the US and Gulf Arab states.
But Mr Benomar stressed this was "a first step in a long road fraught with difficulties" for Yemen.
He said the new government needed to re-establish control over large parts of the country now under the control of al-Qaeda.
And he praised leaders for ordering the military back to barracks and removing checkpoints.
But many protesters are still angry that the transfer deal has not gone far enough and that it gives Mr Saleh and his family immunity from prosecution.

Yemen protesters demand Saleh trial, denounce government

Thu Dec 22, 2011
By Mohammed Ghobari
SANAA (Reuters) - Thousands of Yemenis marched toward the capital on Thursday, demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh face trial for killings of protesters over 11 months of demonstrations against him and denouncing a new government that would spare him prosecution.
The United Nations, which endorsed a pact brokered by Yemen's wealthier neighbours to stave off civil war by easing Saleh from power, said he would need medical treatment abroad while the country prepares to elect a successor.
The struggle over Saleh's fate has rekindled the poor country's multiple conflicts, and fanned fears in Washington that the Yemeni wing of al Qaeda could grow stronger if the Arabian Peninsula state descends further into chaos.
"The goal is to bring down the regime and try its figures, to refuse giving Saleh and his aides any parliamentary immunity," said Waddah al-Adeeb, an organiser of the march which set out from the southern city of Taiz earlier this week.
"And we reject the unity government, because it just reproduces the regime itself," he said by telephone from some 100 km (62 miles) south of the capital Sanaa.
He was referring to a government split between members of Saleh's party and opposition parties tasked with leading Yemen to the vote in February.
It is also to oversee the disengagement of troops loyal to Saleh - including a well-armed unit led by his son - and those of tribesmen and rebel army factions that have waged war in Sanaa and elsewhere.
The government's role is laid out in the transition pact, echoed by a U.N. Security Council resolution, that would make Saleh the fourth leader to surrender power after mass protests that have redrawn the political map of the Middle East.
U.N. Yemen envoy Jamal Benomar, who is attempting to implement the transition plan, said on Wednesday that efforts were underway to arrange treatment for Saleh, who suffered burns and other injuries in an apparent assassination attempt in June.
Yemeni government and opposition officials said on Wednesday that efforts to pull pro-Saleh forces and those of tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar from the capital's Hasaba and Soufan districts, where they have clashed sporadically, had bogged down.
Any successor government will face multiple challenges including resurgent separatist sentiment in the south, formerly a socialist republic that fought a civil war with Saleh's north in 1994 after four turbulent years of formal union.
The region is also home to Islamists who have seized chunks of Abyan province. Ensuing fighting with government troops has sparked mass flight, compounding humanitarian crisis in a country with some 500,000 internally displaced people.
An official in Abyan, whose capital Zinjibar fell to Islamist fighters in May, said that seven government troops and as many as 20 Islamist fighters had been killed since Tuesday in a fresh round of fighting in that city.
Residents of nearby Jaar said columns of smoke were rising from parts of the city where there had been intense fighting, and that the bodies of Islamist fighters had been carried out for burial.
In another southern province, Lahej, a local official said six men suspected of membership in al Qaeda had been detained.
Saleh's opponents accuse him of fomenting chaos and ceding territory to Islamists in the region to underline his claim that only his rule can contain the country's al Qaeda branch, which has planned attacks abroad, abortive to date, from Yemen.
The United States, which long backed Saleh as a cornerstone of its "counter-terrorism" policy and has carried out drone attacks in Yemen, has thrown its weight behind the plan to replace him, seeing him as more a liability than asset now.
There have also been repeated attacks on Yemen's main oil pipeline, paralysing the country's largest refinery and leading to acute fuel shortages and cut-offs of exports that in turn fund imports of staple foodstuffs.
The Yemeni state news agency on Wednesday quoted the oil minister as saying those attacks had cost Yemen $700 million, without elaborating whether that sum came from lost exports, estimated damage to infrastructure or both.

Yemen Kills Brother Of Country’s Al-Qaida Leader

By Ahmed Al-haj, Associated Press
SANAA, Yemen (AP) December 22, 2011 — The brother of Yemen’s al-Qaida leader was among dozens of people killed in battles raging for days in the south of the country, security and military officials said Thursday.
A member of a local tribe confirmed that Abdel-Rahman al-Wahishi was killed in fighting Wednesday between Yemen’s military and Islamic militants near the city of Zinjibar.
He was a younger brother of Nasser al-Wahishi, a Yemeni who once served as Osama bin Laden’s personal aide in Afghanistan and now leads al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The younger al-Wahishi is believed to have been an operative in the group, but it is not clear what his role was in its hierarchy.
The security officials said faulty intelligence had indicated the military was firing on the al-Qaida leader himself, a high-value target for both the United States and Yemen’s government. Further investigation revealed that the leader was not in the area at the time and that the man killed was the younger brother.
At least 51 people, including 18 soldiers, have been killed in the fighting since Sunday, according to an area hospital and the security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

EU calls for “inclusive” Yemen democratic transition

December 22, 2011
EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton told Yemeni Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi on Thursday that his country's democratic transition must be inclusive in order to succeed.
Ashton said she called Hadi to underline her "firm support" for his efforts after veteran President Ail Abdullah Saleh agreed last month to hand over power to his deputy following February elections.
"I confirmed the EU's continued support to Yemen and to a Yemeni-led, inclusive and democratic transition process on the basis of a sustainable national consensus," she said in a statement.
"I assured the vice president that we will stand by him in his efforts towards a better future based on democracy, justice and human rights," she said.
"I also underlined the EU's view that to succeed, the transition process must be inclusive: we discussed how best to reach out to the large numbers of unemployed young people, the youth movements and other groups."
A national unity government, headed by the opposition, was sworn in earlier this month to lead a three-month transition period until early polls are held and Saleh formally steps down.
After the February elections, Hadi will take over the presidency for an interim two-year period under a Gulf-sponsored deal drafted to resolve Yemen's political crisis.