Yemen gives rival forces 48 hours to quit capital

Reuters , Wednesday 11 Jan 2012

Yemeni demilitarising committee gives new deadline for withdrawal of armed groups from capital Sanaa, a hard task with no force to enforce demand

A Yemeni committee tasked with demilitarising the capital has given 48 hours to armed opponents and backers of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh to begin withdrawing after months of street fighting, state news agency Saba said on Wednesday.

The presence of armed elements in Sanaa, defying an earlier deadline to leave their positions by the end of December, underlines the difficulty of restoring normality to the country, which was paralysed for most of 2011 by protests against Saleh.

Tribal fighters led by Saleh's opponents and Republican Guard troops commanded by the veteran leader's son are still deployed in several areas of Sanaa, including the northern district of Hasaba, scene of some of the heaviest fighting.

The 48 hours begin on Thursday morning, Saba said. It was unclear if the new deadline would prove more effective than the last.

The body has no forces to ensure the deadline is met, but a government source told Reuters the panel would ask the international community to put pressure on any side that refused to withdraw.

The committee said it would also begin re-opening roads blocked off by rival forces during the unrest, warning it would "hold accountable" anyone who tried to hinder the process, without elaborating.

Under a plan drawn up by Yemen's wealthier neighbours and signed by Saleh in November, the opposition and the ruling General People's Congress party (GPC) shared out cabinet posts between them, forming a unity government to steer the country towards presidential elections in February.

Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy who helped clinch the deal, was due to arrive in Sanaa later on Wednesday to push for its full implementation.

Any successor to Saleh faces a host of challenges, including a rebellion in the north, a southern separatist movement, and al Qaeda's most active wing, based in Yemen.

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