Saturday, March 17, 2012

With president gone, Yemen seeks to remake military

By Adam Baron — McClatchy Newspapers
March 17, 2012
SANAA, Yemen — Nearly a month after a referendum-like election formally ended former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three decades in power, attention is focusing on how to remake the nation's military, which was the backbone of the former president's rule.
Restructuring the military has been a key demand of the anti-government demonstrators who began rallying for Saleh's ouster more than a year ago. They characterized the military as a disorderly cesspool of corruption organized primarily to safeguard Saleh's hold on power rather than to secure Yemen.
The issue has gained greater urgency during the months since, as a number of military leaders, including the powerful Gen. Ali Mohsen, a former Saleh ally, broke with the government. Since then, the Yemeni army has been divided into often combative halves.
Opposition leaders are watching warily as Saleh's replacement, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, takes the first tentative steps to reform an institution in which Saleh's relatives still lead key units.
The deal that set up Saleh's departure from the presidency gave Hadi the responsibility of revamping the military, and he's already made some changes, most notably appointing a new commander in Yemen's southern region, where government forces have battled al Qaida-linked militants for months.
Still, many Yemenis openly question whether Hadi, a longtime Saleh ally with little power base of his own, will be able to assert his authority over the heavily armed military leaders.
Others, including some opposition politicians, have raised the question of foreign interference, citing a widespread rumor that the U.S. government, once a staunch Saleh backer, will be asked to aid the restructuring process.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported two weeks ago that European nations and the United States had split up responsibilities for assisting Yemen's transition, with the United States drawing the military portfolio. Some top opposition politicians accept that as fact, saying they've heard from well-connected diplomats, though the British ambassador has denied that any such division of responsibility has taken place.
Despite the perception that Hadi is weak, he has some advantages that may help him revamp the military, analysts say.
For one, he's seen as a consensus figure, with support from the international community, Yemen's major political parties and the country's top military leaders. With that kind of backing, resistance to Hadi's efforts — or an effort to overthrow him — almost certainly will be seen as an attack on Yemen itself, drawing a harsh response.
But Hadi must move to establish that he's firmly in control.
"Reform of the military requires certain prerequisites: Chiefly, Hadi needs to assert his authority as commander in chief," said Abdulghani al Iryani, a political analyst who heads the Democratic Awakening Movement, a pro-democracy Yemeni political action committee. "If he does so and prudently deals with the military, he can get them to disengage from the political situation."
And while balancing the competing military and political factions may take time, Hadi must move quickly, analysts said. The nation, which has lived through 12 months of political turmoil, is impatient for results. Leading youth activists and some opposition politicians already have said they'll refuse to engage in political dialogue unless military reform takes place.
The military itself is showing signs of stress. A mutiny has wracked the air force for nearly three months, and there have been demonstrations demanding change among members of other military branches as well.
Even if many Yemenis say they understand the reasoning behind a more gradual transition, they're quick to note that, absent substantive military reform, any changes are likely to be rendered aesthetic at best.
"From the beginning, our focus has been changing the military," said Khaled al Dhubhani, a middle-aged mechanical engineer and politically independent activist. "If the military doesn't change, its hard to imagine that much else will."

Yemen’s Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar says ready to retire

Chiara Onassis | 17 March 2012
SANA’A: In March last year, Yemen’s General Mohsen al-Ahmar decided to side with the revolution, declaring himself the “Protector of the People” joining tens of thousands in their calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster.
The move to the opposition, which was perceived as a defection by both the regime and the revolutionaries was not however officially sealed by a resignation or even a declaration.
To this very day, General Ali Mohsen remains de facto under the command of the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, the president, receiving his salary and that of his men directly from the defense ministry.
Despite his obvious acts of rebellion and his armed opposition against the regime, President Saleh never demoted him, or even disowned him, maintaining a strange dynamic. The matter actually raised a few questions amongst soldiers who did defect to the revolution and whose salaries were suspended.
A spokesperson for the government, Mohamed al-Basha noted that the matter of defected soldiers would be ”dealt with in good time and after careful consideration from President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi.”
Amid fresh tensions in “Change Square,” the main rallying point of the revolution in Sana’a, the capital, soldiers have begun to demand the immediate departure from his post of General Mohsen al-Ahmar, as they say he is as much part of the regime as Saleh and his loyalists.
A day after demonstrators paraded in 60 Street, the general announced that he was willing to step down if indeed it was what President Hadi wished for, stressing that he would accept whatever “mission” the state would entrust him with.
Meanwhile, former President Saleh continues to call on his foes to depart from Yemen, accusing them of being in breach of a “secret agreement” negotiated by all warring factions last year, in which all parties agreed that upon Saleh’s resignation they would all abandon their positions within the state and retire abroad.

Yemen hunts abductors of Swiss woman

March 17, 2012 (AFP)
ADEN — Yemeni security forces were on Saturday hunting for suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen who abducted a Swiss woman this week with no immediate leads in sight, a security official said.
"We are pursuing our search but so far we have not been able to locate where the Swiss woman is being held or know anything about her fate," a security official in southern Shabwa province told AFP.
He said that three suspects were detained overnight as part of the investigation.
On Friday a local official said suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen seized the woman in the Red Sea port of Hodeida and then moved her to restive Shabwa province further to the east.
The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed the abduction and said it had been informed the woman had been kidnapped late Wednesday and were trying to seek her release.
The Yemeni interior ministry, quoting a Swiss colleague of the woman, said she had been teaching at a foreign language institute in Hodeida and was seized at home by "men in military uniform" who moved her to Shabwa.
The colleague identified her as 34-year-old Sylvia Abrahat, according to the transliteration from Arabic of a name posted by the ministry on its website.
According to the report, the kidnapped woman telephoned her colleague to say her abductors are demanding "the release of prisoners held in Hodeida" in return for her freedom.
The local official who announced the abduction on Friday said at the time that the kidnappers were "demanding the release of two Al-Qaeda militants detained in Hodeida."
Later a security official said "the kidnapping bears the hallmark of Al-Qaeda".
According to him, only a well-organised group such as Al-Qaeda could have undertaken such an operation, which involved moving the Swiss woman across three provinces.
Shabwa is a stronghold of loyalists of the jihadists' local affiliate Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, whose militants fight under the banner of Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law).
A tribal source said the woman was being held in a mountainous area of Shabwa adjoining Bayda province.
"Contacts are under way in an attempt to secure the woman's release," he told AFP, without detailing the nature of the contacts.
The source named the men whose release is wanted by the kidnappers as Ahmed Mohammed Morjan and Faez Mohammed Aliwa -- both said to be detained from criminal issues.
Overnight Friday authorities arrested Morjan's father, a brother and a cousin to quiz them on any involvement in the abduction, the security official said.
More than 200 people have been abducted in Yemen during the past 15 years, many of them by members of the country's powerful tribes who use them as bargaining chips with the authorities.
Almost all of those kidnapped were later freed unharmed.

Armed clashes erupt in south Yemen port city

March 17, 2012 –AFP-
Yemeni security forces and unknown gunmen clashed Saturday in the southern port city of Aden, wounding two policemen and a civilian, a security official told AFP.
The gunfight erupted in the city's Mualla neighbourhood a day after a member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) was arrested in the same district, the official said on condition of anonymity.
"Two members of the security forces and a civilian were wounded in the shootout," he said, without giving any more details.
Aden, Yemen's largest southern city, has been plagued by violence since Al-Qaeda-linked militants overran several towns in neighbouring Abyan province last May.
The extremist group has increased its influence in the country's mostly lawless south and east since mass protests demanding the ouster of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which erupted in January 2011, weakened the central government and divided its security forces.
Aden is also a stronghold of militants demanding either autonomy or outright independence for the south, which was a separate country until 1990.
Activists seriously disrupted the single-candidate presidential poll in February which ended Saleh's 33-year rule over Yemen and made his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi the first new president in Sanaa since 1978.

Hadi issues decree over 2011-peaceful protests victims

SANA'A, March 17 (Saba) – President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi has issued a decree over the victims of 2011 peaceful protests.
The presidential decree No.(8) for 2012 is hereby read as follows:
After the perusal of Yemeni constitution and according to the Gulf initiative and its executive mechanism signed on November 23, 2011, it is decided to:
Article (1.a) : consider all civilians who were killed in 2011 due to the peaceful protests as martyrs of the nation.
(b) Adopt soldier salary for each martyr and totally disabled person, whereas partially disabled would be included in social welfare fund according to the fund's system. The fund should prepare a regulation for martyrs and totally displaced, issued according to a decree from the Premier.
(c) the government should offer heath care for the injured and treat them whether inside the country or abroad according to the nature of injury.
Article (2): the government should provide the required funds, while the social welfare fund must verify data validation of those covered people in article (1(.
Article (3): Nothing in this decree shall preclude the completion of the procedure for issuing law/laws of national reconciliation and transitional justice.
The last article, No.(4), stipulated that the decree shall be effective from its issuance date and to be published in the official gazette.