Thursday, March 29, 2012

UN council worried by Yemen political deterioration

By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, March 29 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council expressed concern on Thursday at a political deterioration in Yemen threatening a transition to democracy in the Middle East state where year-long protests ended former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.
Saleh left office last month, handing power to Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi under the terms of an agreement crafted by his Gulf neighbors, with U.S. and U.N. backing, that envisions elections in 2014. The military is to be restructured in the meantime.
But the year of protests against Saleh and fighting among Yemeni factions have allowed al Qaeda's regional wing to seize swathes of south Yemen and Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels to carve out their own domain in the north.
"The Security Council expresses concern at the recent deterioration in cooperation among political actors and the risks this poses to the transition," the 15-nation panel said in a statement. "The Security Council expresses its strong concern about intensified terrorist attacks."
A split in the military has also led to fighting among rival units and threatened to tip into civil war.
The council also noted "with concern that children continue to be recruited and used by armed groups and certain elements of the military and calls for continued national efforts to discourage the use and recruitment of child soldiers."
It called upon political actors in Yemen to remain committed to the political transition, to constitutional order, and to play a constructive role and reject violence.
The United States and Saudi Arabia are keen for the Gulf transition plan to work, fearing that a power vacuum in Yemen is giving Islamist militants space to thrive alongside a key crude shipping strait in the Red Sea.
Saleh's son and nephew have control of key units armed for "counter-terrorism" by the United States, which was the target of an abortive bomb plot by the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda.
Many southerners complain that northerners have discriminated against them and usurped their resources. Most of Yemen's fast-declining oil reserves are in the south. The central government has denied there was any discrimination against the south.
Yemeni factions, including separatists who want to reinstate a southern state which united with the north in 1990, have been invited to a national dialogue ahead of a parliamentary poll.
The Security Council also urged all parties in Yemen to allow unimpeded safe access for humanitarian aid.
"The Security Council notes the formidable economic and social challenges confronting Yemen, which have left many Yemenis in acute need of humanitarian assistance," it said.

AQAP puts new demands to release abducted Swiss woman

By Fatik al-Rodaini
SANA'A: March 29, 2012- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, put on Thursday new demands to release abducted Swiss woman, Sylvia Abrahat.
The group, which belongs to Ansar al-Sharia, demanded the immediate release of Osama bin Laden's wives, along with the release of 100 prisoners in Yemeni jails with links to Al-Qaeda, and demanding a ransom of 50 million Euros
A tribal source who has been mediating with Sylvia Abrahat kidnappers said that their demands were impossible.
The militants demanded the release of numerous widows in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia jails.
"Last week the group demanded the release of Al-Qaeda's leader widows from Pakistani jails in addition to numerous widows in Saudi Arabia jails," Ali Abdullah Zabara, a tribal mediation reported. Adding the Yemeni authorities refused their demands.
This week the militants put three main demands to free the Swiss woman; they demanded the release of Osama bin Laden's wives along with 100 prisoners in Yemeni jails with links to Al-Qaeda, and demanding a ransom of 50 million Euros.
The Swiss national, a language teacher, was kidnapped on March 14 in the western sea-port of Hodeida where officials admitted that a breakdown in security had allowed gangs and criminals to flourish.
Sylvia was transported by her abductors across 3 provinces to the oil-rich and restive Shabwa, where al-Qaeda militants have established yet another stronghold.
Kidnappings of Western tourists or workers by tribes seeking ransom or concessions from the government have been frequent in Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries. Most of the hostages have been freed unharmed.

Saudi Arabia demands Yemen group free diplomat immediately

March 29, 2012
JEDDAH: The Foreign Ministry yesterday warned the armed group which kidnapped Saudi diplomat Abdullah bin Muhammad Al-Khalidi in front of his house in Aden, Yemen.
Saudi Arabia's deputy consul Abdullah Al-Khalidi, was seized in Mansoora district of Aden as he was about to enter his car.
A ministry source said the group would be held responsible for the captive's safety and demanded his immediate release.
"The kidnappers will achieve nothing out of this act," the official said, adding that the Kingdom would take all necessary measures to protect its diplomats and employees.
Saudi Ambassador in Sanaa Ali Al-Hamdan said: "Some signs of a fight were visible in the car owned by the kidnapped diplomat, who apparently showed resistance."
He said his glasses, found in the diplomatic car, were broken. Al-Hamdan added the deputy consul was believed to be abducted at 9 a.m. yesterday morning near his house.
"So far, no information is available, and nobody has contacted us," said the Saudi diplomat, adding that the Saudi Embassy is in continuous contact with top Yemeni authorities who have intensified investigations into the case.
No one has claimed responsibility so far. A security operation is now under way to find any clue or to locate the diplomat, said Al-Hamdan.
Al-Khalidi was forced to board another vehicle that sped off with him to an unknown location, according to the Yemeni police.
Al-Khalidi was forced to board another vehicle that sped off with him to an unknown location, according to the Yemeni police, who released a statement on Wednesday afternoon. It was not clear whether the abduction had any political or financial motives. Aden is the city closest to Yemen's Abyan province, where government forces have been struggling to contain militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
Security in the country's second city Aden, and in southern Yemen generally, has deteriorated during the political turmoil that began with mass protests against then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh in early 2011, and saw fighting among pro and anti-Saleh factions of the military as well as tribal militias. This new abduction case involving a senior Saudi diplomat has left Saudi and Yemeni people in great shock.
"The incident is aimed at spoiling the historic relations between the Kingdom and Yemen," said Mahdi Al-Nahari, a Yemeni community leader in Jeddah, while condemning the kidnapping. He said the incident was carefully planned to coincide with a visit by the new Yemeni President Abdu Mansour Hadi to the Kingdom.
"The incident comes to serve the interests and ill intentions of those who stand against good relations between the two countries and who want to sour the ties," said Al-Nahari.
He said the Yemeni community, who have been living and working with their Saudi brothers in the Kingdom for years, condemned the incident. "This incident runs against Yemeni values and ethics as well as Arab tradition, which does not teach hatred, crime and treachery," said Al-Nahari. In the past year, some of the groups and militant tribesmen in Yemen have consolidated their control over several towns and villages in the region, including Abyan's capital Zinjibar in Yemen.
These groups are involved in criminal activities, while their complicity with terror groups are also evident. Kidnappings have also become very common in Yemen, with captives often being held as negotiating tools in disputes between rival tribes or armed groups. This is the third time that a Saudi diplomat has been abducted or targeted in Yemen in one year.
Two months ago, unknown gunmen seized the car and some personal belongings of Al-Khalidi at the same place in Aden. In April last year, another Saudi diplomat was kidnapped and held hostage for 10 months before he was finally released. Saeed Al-Maliki, a second secretary at the Saudi embassy in Sanaa, was kidnapped last year by three gunmen of Yemen's Beni Dhabian tribe when he was passing Hada Street in Sanaa on his way to the embassy.
Al-Maliki was taken to a mountainous area, 80 kilometers southeast of the Yemeni capital. This is not the only case of abduction involving Saudi citizens and officials in the country despite the massive aid and support provided by the Kingdom. In November 2010, armed tribesmen kidnapped a Saudi official in Yemen and later released him after receiving assurances about the release of detained kinsmen.
In another case, the Saudi embassy managed to free four Saudi citizens abducted by gunmen in the Yemeni capital. In yet another highly-publicized case, Saudi security officials secured the release of two German girls who were part of a group of foreigners kidnapped in Yemen some time ago. The girls were found during a joint Saudi-Yemeni operation. More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Yemen over the past few years.
Foreigners are frequently kidnapped in the country. Kidnappers try to pressure authorities into making concessions or securing the released of their detained accomplices and tribesmen. Earlier on Wednesday Saudi Arabia announced it would provide Yemen with all its petroleum needs for two months following talks between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia and its GCC partner countries have been heavily involved in a power-transfer deal that forced Yemen's longtime president Saleh to relinquish power after a yearlong turmoil and mass protests against his rule. Saleh stepped down last month and handed power to his deputy. Yemen's turmoil has caused a security vacuum, which Al-Qaeda has used to seize large swathes of territory across the restive south.

Yemen frees Ethiopians held by gunman seeking ransom

March 29, 2012
SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni police have freed 21 Ethiopian illegal migrants who were tortured by armed men to force their relatives in Saudi Arabia to send ransom money, the government said on Thursday.
The group, which included 14 women, were held in a house in Hajja province near the border with Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
"Security forces stormed the building, arresting three of the kidnappers, including two who were torturing the Ethiopians with electric cables and iron chains," it said.
"The Ethiopians said during investigations that their kidnappers wanted to force them to contact their families who are in Saudi Arabia to send money to secure their release."
It said the Ethiopians had been transferred to a U.N. refugee centre ahead of repatriation.
Yemen, which has been in turmoil over the past year as protesters forced veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, is a destination point for refugees from Horn of Africa countries although it is one of the world's poorest nations.
Many hope to cross the porous mountain border with Saudi Arabia, an affluent Gulf oil producer.

US drone strikes on Yemen escalate

By Erik West
March 29, 2012
America has dramatically escalated its drone strikes war in Yemen with the tempo of attacks rising to parity with incidents in Pakistan since the installation of a new government this month.
President Barack Obama has authorised all but one of the estimated 44 drone strikes by the US in the troubled Arab state since 2002 and has overseen a rapid increase in attacks since last May with 26 incidents recorded.
The pace appears to be accelerating with nine attacks so far this year and at least five this month, including a strike last week near the terrorist hot bed of Zinjibar. Up to 30 militants were killed in three separate missile strikes on the town, eyewitnesses said.
Nationwide the figures are comparable to those in Pakistan where America has struck on ten occasions, even as it scales back activities in the face of a backlash from an angry public.
Research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at City University has found that as many as 516 people have been killed in the attacks – mostly suspected members of al-Qaeda’s local ally al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Up to 104 were civilians.
With the majority of the attacks carried out by the CIA or US special forces command from a base nearby Dijbouti, American officials refused to confirm or acknowledge the attacks.
President Obama has, however, made plain his determination to go after AQAP, which he has described as “a network of violence and terror” that has attracted a number of US citizens to its cause, including the radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki.
Awlaki was killed last September, along with Samir Khan, editor of AQAP’s English-language propaganda magazine Inspire, which had been blamed for recruiting Western-raised youths to Islamic radicalism.
Days later a follow-up attack killed other militants – but also Awlaki’s 16-year old son and 17-year old nephew. AQAP’s ability to speak to an English-language audience was finished.
Elizabeth Quintada, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute. said the drone strikes had successfully damaged AQAP, having secured the tacit backing of Yemeni leaders, but still carried the risk of embroiling the US in Yemen’s internal turmoil.
 The strikes in Yemen are government-permitted if not government-sponsored and are a very effective way to hit terrorist camps,” she said. “But because there is a general uprising against the government of Yemen there is a concern about the accuracy of intelligence and groups using America’s firepower for their own purposes.”
The increase in attacks this month appears linked to the installation of a new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. In his recent inauguration speech he called for “the continuation of war against al-Qaeda as a religious and national duty”.
Despite multiple reports of US military action in Yemen, the US rarely acknowledges its secret war. A US state department spokesman, speaking on background terms, would this week say only that “I refer you to the Government of Yemen for additional information on its counterterrorism efforts”.
However a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks records a conversations between Gen David Petraeus – now the head of the CIA – and Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh discussing a US attack in December 2009 in which civilians were killed. A Yemen parliamentary commission later found that 14 alleged terrorists died in the attack as well as 44 civilians.
Despite public pressure, US officials have never investigated the deaths. Sheikh Himir Al-Ahmar, deputy speaker of Yemen’s parliament said the local authorities had dealt with the incident.
 The families of the victims were indeed paid appropriate compensation by the Yemeni Government,” he said. “The American authorities did not get involved in this process in any way.’
Campaigners have called on the US to take responsibility for its covert war from the skies. Amnesty International, which carried out its own investigation into the December 2009 attack, said this week that the US failure to investigate credible reports of civilian deaths was troubling.
 With an increase in such operations in places like Yemen, unless one gets to the bottom of who was killed, why, and what precautions were taken to protect civilians, then there is a risk such mistakes will be repeated in the future,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East programme.