Yemen troops, separatists clash with UN talks in peril

2015-02-28 20:19


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Aden - The separatist Southern Movement suspended its participation in UN-sponsored talks raising fresh tensions in Yemen, as nine soldiers were wounded Saturday in a clash with separatist fighters.

The clash coincided with a drone attack that killed three suspected al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, tribal sources said.

An official in the southern province of Lahij told AFP that separatists opened fire on an army convoy and three soldiers were wounded in a gunbattle.

The separatists last week abducted 12 soldiers and threatened to kill them unless the army handed over a military base to offset the growing influence of the Shi'ite Huthi militia that has seized Sana'a.

Tensions in Yemen have soared since the Huthis overran the presidential palace in the capital in February and placed Western-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi under house arrest.

Hadi escaped last week to Aden, where he has been reconsolidating his grip on power buoyed by support from Gulf states which have relocated their embassies to the southern city.

Several countries, including Britain and the United States, closed their embassies in Sana'a over security fears following the Huthi takeover.

Hadi's escape to Aden has turned what was the capital of an independent south Yemen before unification in 1990 into a diplomatic hub.

The Southern Movement, which seeks the secession of the regions of the formerly independent south, announced overnight Friday that it was pulling out of UN-brokered talks.

Dispute over venue

"We have suspended our participation in the [UN-backed] national dialogue until it is moved out of the country," Southern Movement member Yassin Mekkawi told AFP.

He said negotiators were facing mounting "political and psychological pressure".

UN envoy Jamal Benomar has been shuttling between Yemeni parties to secure an end to the country's political deadlock and to persuade them to return to the negotiating table in Sana'a.

But there has been widespread disagreement on the venue.

Benomar met Hadi in Aden on Thursday and said the latter wanted the talks moved to a "safe place to which the parties should agree".

Ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh's party, however, insists the talks resume in Sana'a, warning of a boycott.

The Huthis, who have long clashed with central authorities, descended from their power base in northern Yemen to seize Sana'a in September.

After moves to expand into southern and central Yemen were checked by fierce resistance from al-Qaeda and from Sunni tribesmen, the militia grabbed the seats of power in Sana'a in February.

The Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is seen by the United States as the deadliest branch of the global extremist network.

AQAP took advantage of a 2011 uprising that forced veteran president Saleh from power to seize large swathes of the south and east.

On Saturday, three suspected al-Qaeda militants were killed in a drone strike in the southern province of Shabwa, tribal sources said.

The United States is the only country operating drones in Yemen.

Read more on:    yemen

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