Key military positions dismantled in Yemen capital

Reuters , Wednesday 28 Dec 2011

Military positions separating Yemen's warring forces in central Sanaa were dismantled on Wednesday in a show of faith by both sides that they want to halt nearly a year of fighting to topple the president

Armed Yemeni tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the Hashid tribe, stand around as a bulldozer removes barricades and sand bags set up by armed tribesmen loyal to al-Ahmar during months of deadly protests in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, (Photo: AP).

Bulldozers crashed through the walls of sandbags fortifying the fighters' positions on a main street in Hasaba, a flashpoint area where tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar's compound is located and the site of fighting between his and outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces, including units led by Saleh's son.

However, underscoring how volatile the country remains, one person was killed and three wounded when gunmen loyal to a pro-Saleh security chief based in the suburbs of Sanaa opened fire on a group of that chief's subordinates, who had revolted against him and demanded he be sacked, a security source said.

Separating the country's many warring forces is central to a plan brokered by Yemen's wealthier neighbours to ease Saleh from power and avoid civil war they fear could give al Qaeda a foothold in Yemen.

The move by a military committee to separate the forces comes a day after Washington, which long backed Saleh as part of its counter-terrorism strategy, said it was weighing giving Saleh a visa to undergo medical treatment in the United States.

Saleh announced on Saturday he would head to Washington, hours after his forces killed nine protesters demanding he face trial for killing demonstrators during the uprising against him, in which military units and tribal leaders who once cooperated with Saleh turned on him.

The military committee overseeing the disengagement works with a transitional government, split between Saleh's party and opposition forces, that is to lead Yemen to elections in February to choose a successor to Saleh.

Yemen's parliament on Wednesday voted to approve the programme of the transitional government, which is led by a former foreign minister who joined the opposition to Saleh. Witnesses said fighters loyal to al-Ahmar, still bearing grenade launchers and rifles, watched as a large checkpoint they ran near an office of Saleh's political party was demolished.

"We are committed to the Gulf initiative and ... will work to remove all of the obstacles facing the military committee and to follow its guidelines," said Hashem al-Ahmar, a military and tribal leader in the powerful Hashed tribal confederation.

The al-Ahmar clan threw its weight behind protesters early in the uprising against Saleh.

The immunity from prosecution Saleh would have under the transition pact crafted by the Gulf Coooperation Council has alienated youth protesters who have taken to the streets against Saleh, and denounce the opposition parties who signed the deal.

Al-Ahmar fighters jeered him near the dismantled checkpoint, some dancing and singing: "Ali and his regime must leave."

Any successor to Saleh would face overlapping conflicts throughout the country, including a Shi'ite Muslim rebellion in the north and renewed separatist sentiment in the south, which fought a civil war with Saleh's north in 1994 after four turbulent years of formal union.

Islamist fighters have seized chunks of territory in the southern Abyan province. Fighting there has forced tens of thousands of people to flee, compounding a humanitarian crisis in a country where about half a million people are displaced.

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