SANAA, May 5 (Reuters) - Yemen's President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi vowed on Saturday to defeat an al Qaeda-linked insurgency in the south of the poor Arab country to allow thousands of displaced people to return home.
Militants linked to al Qaeda have seized significant chunks of territory in the semi-desert regions of southern Yemen in recent months, after taking control of several towns. Fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom have fled to the port city of Aden.
"The fight with al Qaeda terrorism will not end until after each district and village is cleared and displaced persons return to the safety of their homes," Hadi said, quoted by state media.
The growing Islamist insurgency in Yemen is of serious concern to the United States and oil exporter Saudi Arabia who both fear that a year of unrest that toppled the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, could give al Qaeda's regional wing a foothold near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.
Hadi, who had been Saleh's vice-president, was elected president unopposed in February under a U.S.-backed power transition plan brokered by Yemen's Gulf neighbours to end the political upheaval.
Hadi said his government would battle al Qaeda and encourage "elements of the terror organisation to give up their weapons and their ideas that are in contradiction to Islam".
The president also vowed to unify the army, which is divided between pro-Saleh units and those supporting the demonstrators demanding his resignation.
"I reiterate here that, by virtue of my authority and backed by the popular legitimacy of the constitution and laws, I will not allow the split in the armed forces to continue," Hadi said in a speech at a military academy graduation ceremony.
Hadi, tasked under the transition plan to unify the armed forces, has removed about 20 top commanders, including some of Saleh's relatives.
Officials said on Thursday that a nephew of had resigned from his post as commander of an elite military unit. His departure was seen as a success for Hadi's efforts to restructure the army.
Hadi's drive to remove Saleh's relatives and allies from power has faced stiff resistance. The former leader's son Ahmed and nephew Yahya remain in place as heads of important military units.
More than 250 people have been killed since government forces intensified a crackdown on the militants who the authorities accused of attacking a military camp near the southern city of Lawdar last month.
Hadi also faces challenges from Shi'ite Muslim rebels in the north and southern secessionists.