Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Yemen gives rival forces 48 hours to quit capital

Wed Jan 11, 2012
SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni committee tasked with demilitarizing the capital has given 48 hours to armed opponents and backers of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to begin withdrawing after months of street fighting, state news agency Saba said on Wednesday.
The presence of armed elements in Sanaa, defying an earlier deadline to leave their positions by the end of December, underlines the difficulty of restoring normality to the country, which was paralyzed for most of 2011 by protests against Saleh.
Tribal fighters led by Saleh's opponents and Republican Guard troops commanded by the veteran leader's son are still deployed in several areas of Sanaa, including the northern district of Hasaba, scene of some of the heaviest fighting.
The 48 hours begin on Thursday morning, Saba said. It was unclear if the new deadline would prove more effective than the last.
The body has no forces to ensure the deadline is met, but a government source told Reuters the panel would ask the international community to put pressure on any side that refused to withdraw.
The committee said it would also begin re-opening roads blocked off by rival forces during the unrest, warning it would "hold accountable" anyone who tried to hinder the process, without elaborating.
Under a plan drawn up by Yemen's wealthier neighbors and signed by Saleh in November, the opposition and the ruling General People's Congress party (GPC) shared out cabinet posts between them, forming a unity government to steer the country towards presidential elections in February.
Jamal Benomar, the U.N. envoy who helped clinch the deal, was due to arrive in Sanaa later on Wednesday to push for its full implementation.
Any successor to Saleh faces a host of challenges, including a rebellion in the north, a southern separatist movement, and al Qaeda's most active wing, based in Yemen.
Men suspected of links to al Qaeda opened fire on a minibus carrying intelligence officers to work in the southern town of Aden on Wednesday, killing at least one officer and wounding five, an official, witnesses and medics said.
It was the latest in a series of attacks on security officers in the south. On Tuesday at least 12 militants and three government soldiers were killed in two clashes in the region, according to Yemeni security officials.
"Al Qaeda's fingerprints seem to be all over this incident," a security official told Reuters of Wednesday's attack.
He said two of the wounded were in serious condition. He had earlier reported eight were killed or wounded in the attack.
The attack came amidst a power transition in which Saleh handed power to his deputy after signing a Gulf-brokered peace deal meant to end 10 months of mass protests against his 33-year rule.
The unrest has emboldened groups linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based regional wing, which the United States has called the most dangerous branch of the militant network, to expand their hold over parts of the province of Abyan in southern Yemen.
Yemeni troops have been fighting to dislodge the militants from the provincial capital, Zinjibar, and the town of Jaar.
Neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, and the United States have long seen Saleh as a bulwark against the Islamist group's Yemen branch, which has claimed responsibility for operations that include a failed plot to blow up a U.S.-bound passenger plane in 2009.
Washington and Riyadh are keen for the Gulf-backed power transfer deal to work, fearing that a vacuum in Yemen may give militants space to thrive near key oil and cargo shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Yemen should reject Saleh immunity law, says HRW

By Martina Fuchs/ Reuters January 11, 2012

DUBAI: A Yemeni government proposal to grant President Ali Abdullah Saleh amnesty in return for his speedy exit is an affront to thousands who suffered under his rule and should be rejected by the parliament, US-based Human Rights Watch group said.

Yemen's cabinet proposed the immunity law for Saleh on Sunday to encourage him to step down under a Gulf-brokered plan to end protests that have paralysed the country over the past year.

Washington-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement late on Tuesday that the measure could result in impunity for serious crimes such as deadly attacks on anti-government demonstrators in 2011.

"Passing this law would be an affront to thousands of victims of Saleh's repressive rule, including the relatives of peaceful protesters shot dead last year," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's executive Middle East director.

"Yemeni authorities should be locking up those responsible for serious crimes, not rewarding them with a license to kill."

UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has also voiced objections to the draft. However, the United States has defended it, saying the immunity provisions were negotiated as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council deal to get Saleh to leave power.

Under the arrangement, Saleh's General People's Congress party (GPC) and the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) agreed to divide up cabinet posts between them, forming a national unity government to lead the country towards presidential elections in February.

The United States and Saudi Arabia are keen for the plan to work, fearing that a power vacuum in Yemen is benefiting militants alongside the Red Sea, an important shipping channel.

The draft law, which parliament is expected to debate as early as Wednesday, violates Yemen's obligations under international law to investigate and prosecute serious crimes such as torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, HRW said.

HRW also said immunity would not prevent courts in other countries from prosecuting serious human rights crimes in Yemen under universal jurisdiction laws. "Even if the Yemeni parliament grants immunity, the law will not hold water abroad," Whitson said.

HRW said there had been a total of 270 confirmed deaths of protesters and bystanders in 2011 during attacks by government security forces and gangs on largely peaceful demonstrations, mainly in Sanaa.

"From north to south to central Sanaa, the Saleh government has violated the basic rights of the Yemeni people," Whitson said. "Without accountability for these crimes, there can be no genuine break from the past in a post-Saleh Yemen."

Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa visited Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and is scheduled to meet other Gulf Arab leaders this week to discuss the transition of power in a country that has become a base for a branch of al Qaeda.

Gunmen attack Yemen intelligence officials, kill 1


11 January 2012

ADEN — Unidentified gunmen killed a Yemeni intelligence official and wounded seven others in an attack on their mini-bus in the southern port city of Aden, security and medical officials said Wednesday.

The gunmen first stopped the vehicle travelling in Aden’s Khor Maksar neighbourhood in the city centre before opening fire on the passengers, a police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said the gunmen fled the scene and remained at large.

A medical official at a nearby hospital meanwhile confirmed one of the shooting victims died from his injuries. The other seven all sustained gunshot wounds, and two are in critical condition, the official added.

Al-Qaeda linked militants have been known to carry out hit-and-run attacks on government officials in the south, with deadly incidents on the rise in past months as militants exploit a central government weakened by months of mass protests against embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Since May, government troops have been battling the suspected Al-Qaeda affiliates, known as the Partisan of Sharia (Islamic law) in the southern province of Abyan, where militants have taken control of the provincial capital Zinjibar and several other nearby towns and cities.

Yemen won''t forget Kuwait''s solidarity - PM

KUWAIT, Jan 11 (KUNA) -- Visiting Yemeni Prime Minister Mohammad Salem Basindawa hailed Wednesday the strong Yemeni-Kuwaiti ties and Kuwait's non-stop support to Yemen.

"Kuwait is a sisterly and close to heart country that always stands beside Yemen," Basindawa said in press conference at the Yemeni Embassy here, adding that Yemenis won't forget Kuwait's support to them.

The Yemeni Premier went on to say that Kuwait has a special position at the heart of all Yemenis.

"Kuwait has played an important role in ending the civil wars in 1972 and 1979," he said.

Basindawa noted that Kuwait has contributed to Yemen's development over the years, adding that Yemeni people is grateful for the State of Kuwait and its people.

Basindawa said that he has held talks with His Highness the Deputy Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah.

"We have felt during these talks, the State of Kuwait's unlimited support to Yemen," he said.

Basindawa also denied reports about great challenges facing the implementation of the GCC-brokered reconciliation deal.