Yemen colonel killed as tribesmen overrun base

AFP , Monday 21 Nov 2011

Senior commander killed in battle after dissident tribesmen overrun military base north of Sanaa, says Yemen defence ministry

A top Yemeni army officer was killed in battle between elite troops and dissident tribesmen who took over a strategic military base north of Sanaa, the defence ministry and tribal sources said Monday.

"Colonel Abdulsalam Al-Sufyani, head of operations of the Third Brigade" was killed in an attack on the brigade's base in Arhab, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the capital, defence ministry website reported.

The attack was carried out by "armed militias from the First Armoured Brigade [led by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar], the Muslim Brotherhood Al-Islah Party, and Al-Ahmar terrorist gangs," said the site.

Anti-government tribesmen have since Saturday been battling the elite forces of the Republican Guard who are commanded by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's son, Ahmad.

Tribesmen took control of a base where the 63rd Republican Guard Brigade troops had been stationed, the tribal sources said, before they used the position to fire rockets on surrounding army brigades.

Armed clashes, which broke out on Saturday in Arhab and Nihm to the north of Sanaa, have killed and wounded "several" people from both sides, the sources said without giving specific figures.

The Republican Guard has repeatedly clashed with anti-Saleh tribes in Arhab, north of the airport, while the president's loyalists frequently engage in deadly confrontations in north Sanaa with dissident troops and tribes backing protests.

Nihm is one of several villages and towns that collectively make up the strategic northern gateway into Sanaa and is site of at least five Republican Guard bases.

The elite unit has so far prevented dissident General Ahmar, who controls part of the capital, from calling in reinforcements from Yemen's northern provinces, where parts of his division are deployed.

Anti-government protests that have swept Yemen since January have triggered an unprecedented political crisis that has left the impoverished country's economy in shambles and its government weak and fractured.

The deadlock has also triggered defections among Yemen's military and tribal ranks, with two of Saleh's once staunch allies, General Ahmar and tribal chief Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ahmar, throwing their support behind the protest movement and openly battling pro-Saleh troops in Sanaa's streets.

Saleh, in power for 33 years, has refused to heed regional and international calls to step down, and his military forces have launched a brutal crackdown on protesters that has left hundreds dead and thousands more wounded.

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