ADEN/SANAA - A powerful tribal leader in southern Yemen has called for talks between the army and suspected Islamist militants who have seized control of a provincial capital as a political crisis in Yemen drags on.
With mass protests demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule still paralysing the Arabian Peninsula state, its southern province of Abyan has been scene to violence after militants suspected of ties to al Qaeda took control of its capital Zinjibar last month. Militants have clashed daily with the army.
Sheikh Tareq al-Fadli, a tribal head in Abyan and prominent leader of Yemen’s southern separatist movement, called for a meeting next Monday between residents, army leaders and members of the militant group for what he termed an “investigation of current events”.
Opponents of Saleh, who is recovering in Riyadh from injuries sustained in a June assassination attempt, accuse the government of intentionally giving more room to al Qaeda and Islamist militants to spark fears over Yemen’s future without the veteran president at the helm.
Ali Mohsen, a top general who defected to the protest movement months ago, added his voice to those concerns in a statement released on Saturday.
“We fear the terrorists will seize all of Abyan province, and that is the hope and dream of the government to scare the world that its demise would be a victory for al Qaeda, which is utterly deceitful,” he wrote.
It is unclear whether Sheikh Fadli will succeed in setting up talks between militants and the army — his call for a temporary truce ahead of talks failed to end fighting.
Residents in Zinjibar said three civilians were killed on Saturday when military planes bombed what they thought was a militant hideout. Local papers have recently reported dozens of casualties among militants and the army.
Clashes have escalated since militants on Wednesday seized a stadium near Zinjibar, which the military had been using as a makeshift base to load and transport supplies.
TRANSITION ASSEMBLY PLAN
In the capital Sanaa, where tens of thousands of protesters continue to camp out in the street, the opposition restarted discussions about setting up its own transitional assembly to run the country even as the president and his supporters continue to cling to power.
Mohammed al-Sabry, a spokesman for the bloc of political opposition parties, said the plans were not complete and would need to be reviewed again next Saturday.
“A committee presented a plan and we discussed it and gave some observations, and it was referred back to the committee to reformat for the next meeting,” he said.
Sources told Reuters the opposition was also considering offering amendments to a Gulf Arab proposal for a Yemen power transition, which Saleh, after initially approving, backed out of three times.
With political negotiations at a standstill, the Arab world’s poorest country continues to suffer from a months-long fuel crisis that has left many areas without power for hours on end and dwindling water shipments.
Three people were killed and at least eight injured in clashes for fuel at petrol stations in the coastal province of Hudaida, the local website al-Sahwa said. Four others were wounded when fights over fuel supply broke out in the southern province of Dalea.