Wednesday, 15 December 2010

US official says Wikileaks did not hurt Yemen ties

Source: AP, By AHMED AL-HAJ 15/12/2010

SANAA, Yemen -- A senior U.S. diplomat said Tuesday that the release of secret diplomatic memos by WikiLeaks has not hurt critical ties with Yemen's government and that security aid to the anti-terror ally was being coordinated with the country's leaders.

The U.S. is set to double its military aid to Yemen to $250 million next year in a sign of how serious the threat is from an al-Qaida offshoot that has found haven in the largely lawless and impoverished nation on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Internal U.S. diplomatic memos released by WikiLeaks quote discussions in which Yemen's president told a top U.S. commander his country would pretend that American missile strikes against al-Qaida in the country had been carried out by Yemen's forces.

Yemen's Foreign Ministry said the leaked memos were inaccurate and incorrect.
Yemen's weak government is keen to limit the public's knowledge of the extent of U.S. involvement in the country to avoid inflaming widespread anti-American sentiment in the country.

"Our work with the Yemeni government on security issues is done with the permission, coordination, request of the Yemeni government," said Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. State Department's top official on the Middle East, who visited Yemen Tuesday.

He was responding to a reporter's question about the suspicion that airstrikes in Yemen are carried out by U.S. planes.

He declined to answer a question about whether the U.S. is considering paying compensation to civilian victims and their families.

The U.S. has not officially confirmed its role in airstrikes last winter, although U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, have previously acknowledged American involvement in the bombing.

Amnesty International has said it has evidence of U.S. involvement in airstrikes on suspected al-Qaida hide-outs in Yemen late last year.

Initially, Yemeni officials said al-Qaida militants were killed in a Dec. 17, 2009, airstrike, but a Yemeni parliamentary committee later said that more than 40 civilians died in the strike.

Feltman said the documents made public by WikiLeaks were an "embarrassment" but had not affected the relationship between the two governments.

"Our policy toward Yemen remains that we want to have a long-term partnership with the people and government of Yemen," he said.

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