x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 October 2017

UAE-trained troops secure key Yemeni highway

The 250-kilometre road links Shabwa province, where Al Qaeda have been in retreat, with the Saudi border in the north

A woman sits with her sons while they are treated at a cholera treatment centre in Sanaa, Yemen.  Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
A woman sits with her sons while they are treated at a cholera treatment centre in Sanaa, Yemen. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

Pro-government troops trained by the UAE secured a key highway in Yemen linking a southern province to the Saudi border.

The operation to secure the 250-kilometre road from Shabwa province was carried out by Yemeni special forces, a security source told AFP. Shabwa province was a former bastion of Al Qaeda.

"The highway had been under the control of Al Qaeda, gangs and robbers," the source said, adding that "security forces were facing constant ambush".

Those forces launched a major operation against Al Qaeda two months ago, driving it from the Shabwa with American backing.

The jihadists are thought to have moved farther south into neighbouring Abyan province, where they have since been blamed for suicide attacks on Yemen's military.

Meanwhile, Yemeni police arrested 10 members of the Islamist Al Islah party, the group said on Wednesday.

The arrests came after a roadside bombing killed a cleric with ties to the United Arab Emirates.

Imam Yassin Al Adani, a Yemeni cleric who serves as spiritual adviser to UAE troops allied with the government in Yemen's war, was killed when a roadside bomb struck his car near the Zayed mosque in Aden on Tuesday, multiple security sources told AFP.

The cleric's 12-year-old son was injured in the attack, the sources said.

The Yemeni government has not officially named suspects behind the bombing, but Al Islah said police had arrested 10 members of Islamist movement at dawn, including under-secretary general Mohammed Abdulmalik and a field commander.

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A source in Aden's police force confirmed officers had raided Al Islah's offices in the city, arresting 10 members and confiscating explosives.

The arrest comes as the International Crisis Group said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has an opportunity to mediate in the conflict after a rift in Yemen's rebel camp.

In a report, the ICG said Saudi Arabia and its allies — including Britain and the US — should move fast to "capitalise on a division that they have encouraged".

The report said they should turn the political rift between Yemeni strongman and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his Houthi allies into a ceasefire and ensure the rebels cut all ties with Iran.

"The timing is ripe but the opportunity easily could slip away," ICG said.

Meanwhile, the UN special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, accused the country's warring leaders of refusing to end fighting and liberate people "from the scourge of famine and conflict".

With the war entering its fourth year, Mr Ahmed warned that "the situation will continue worsening" if the parties don't listen to the people of Yemen and display flexibility. He also said heavy fighting continues because leaders stand to lose wealth and power.

Mr Ahmed told the UN Security Council on Tuesday he has been working on "a comprehensive solution" to bring parties back to the negotiating table.

He urged the council "to use all of its political and economic power to exert pressure on all parties to commit to a pact of peace".

For decades, Riyadh backed former president Saleh, who ruled Yemen from its unification in 1990 until he resigned under pressure in 2012, ceding power to his vice president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

But in 2014, Mr Saleh aligned himself with the Houthis, against whom he had fought six wars when he was president. The two now jointly control Yemen's northern highlands and the capital Sanaa.

In August, tensions between Mr Saleh and rebel chief Abdulmalik Al Houthi exploded in public, with the ex-president slamming his allies as militias and the Houthis openly threatening "back-stabbers".

Ties between Mr Saleh and Houthi remain tense.

Compounded by poverty, cholera and looming mass starvation, the war in Yemen has claimed more than 8,500 lives.

In 2015, a Saudi-led coalition — which includes the UAE — intervened and joined the internationally-recognised government's fight against the Houthi rebel alliance.