SANAA //The military commission assigned to end the violence and restore peace to Yemen after months of unrest began yesterday to remove army armoured vehicles, roadblocks and checkpoints from the streets of Sanaa.
Lorries were seen carrying sandbags, concrete blocks and trenches. Smoke and dust billowed as bulldozers removed sand berms, under the supervision of members of the joint commission formed by the interim leader, Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi,
Mr Hadi has been charged with managing the transfer of power and designated to serve as a consensus president following Ali Abdullah Saleh's departure, expected in February.
It will also aim to reform the security services, controlled partly by Mr Saleh's loyalists, in accordance with the transition deal signed by Mr Saleh in November after more than 10 months of protests against his 33-year rule.
Troops who defected from the army were yesterday seen leaving their posts near the home of Mr Hadi.
"We have been working since the morning without any problem. Everything has been going smoothly. When we came here, we did not see any of the First Armoured Division soldiers," said Adnan Abdulkhaeq, a member of one of the teams working to clear the streets.
Mr Abdulkhaleq said they also removed checkpoints and trenches set up by the central security forces, led by Mr Saleh's nephew, Yahia Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, at the Asir roundabout. The area was a place of frequent clashes between the president's loyalists and pro-democracy demonstrators marching from the nearby Change Square - the focal point of the protests and the First Armoured Division led by Major General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar.
Vehicles of the Republican Guard forces, led by Mr Saleh's son, Ahmed, were seen moving from the main Kentucky roundabout where fierce battles were fought between government forces and Gen Al Ahmar's troops.
While some soldiers remained, Colonel Ali Al Thafif, with the Republican Guards, said they are committed to the plan.
"If there is cooperation from all sides, the process will go on without hurdles. We are committed to the Gulf agreement and its implementing mechanism," said Col Al Thafif.
Citizens hailed the removal of the checkpoints.
"I am happy about this. At last, we can enjoy a free life without violence and difficulties in movement. We hope the process will go on and peace is back to our city," said Wael Al Mansuri while watching the bulldozers remove piles of sandbags.
The capital had been divided into three sections controlled by troops and militiamen loyal to Mr Saleh, troops who defected from the army and armed supporters of Sheikh Sadeq Al Ahmar, leader of Yemen's influential tribal confederation of Hashid.
The military commission, led by Mr Hadi, on Wednesday presented a security plan to remove all soldiers and weapons from the capital and other cities. It requires all rival military units and tribal militias to return to their barracks, withdrawing from all buildings they seized and removing all checkpoints they set up since protests began in January. The process is expected to take about a week.
Ali Saeed Obaid, a commission spokesman, told the state Saba news agency yesterday that some public and private buildings were already cleared of military troops.
Under the deal, brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and signed by Mr Saleh on November 23, the commission will oversee the restructuring of the armed forces, now largely controlled by Mr Saleh's family members.
Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen, said that the commission had promised to move quickly on the withdrawal plan, with all militia members to back in their villages by December 24.
Mr Benomar, who left Yemen yesterday, asked all parties to be committed to the peace deal, warning any party against attempting to interfere with the transition.
"The UN Security Council is closely watching the political transition in Yemen and wants to see Yemen..streets owned by the people and not the military units or the militias," Mr Benomar said during a news conference late Friday in Sanaa. He said he would present his next report to the UN Security Council on December 21.
The start of the removal process came only hours after clashes took place in Hasaba neighbourhood, north of the capital, between forces loyal to Mr Saleh and tribal supporters of Mr Al Ahmar.
Violence in Yemen has continued since the agreement was inked, notably in Sanaa and in the second city of Taez, where clashes between loyalist troops and dissidents have left dozens dead.
Mr Benomar, who last week visited Aden, Taiz and Saada, has called all parties to participate in the political process.
"The success [of the deal] will depend on the presence of a participatory process during the national dialogue, constitutional reforms and transitional justice," Mr Benomar told reporters.
With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse