x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

US warns on meddling in Yemen's transition

Concerns raised concerns with Yemen's new leader that former government members are being disruptive.

Students protest inside Sanaa University campus Monday against what they said was corruption at the school.
Students protest inside Sanaa University campus Monday against what they said was corruption at the school.

SANAA // The United States has voiced concerns over meddling by the ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his interference in the political transition in one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

The White House said it had raised concerns with Yemen's leader, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, that members of the former government were disrupting the handover of power from Mr Saleh to his former deputy, who was last month elected president unopposed.

John Brennan, US President Barack Obama's assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism, spoke to Mr Hadi by telephone on Sunday.

The White House statement said Mr Brennan told Mr Hadi "it is essential that all Yemeni political actors, especially those from the previous government, play a constructive role in the transition process and he expressed concern over recent reports that some former government officials are being disruptive".

Mr Hadi had threatened to sack his interim government, made up of members of Mr Saleh's party and opposition groups after the former president threatened to withdraw his people unless they followed his orders and not the president's.

Under a hard-won Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered agreement, Mr Saleh stepped down after 33 years and handed power to Mr Hadi, then vice-president, in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and those close to him.

Mr Hadi will rule a transitional government for two years and oversee the formation of a new constitution and the restructuring of the military. But Mr Saleh retains the leadership of his General People's Congress (GPC) party, and aides have not ruled out him standing for the presidency in 2014.

His sons and relatives remain in control of the most powerful part of the army and security forces.

The US concerns come after cabinet members loyal to Mr Saleh walked out of a cabinet meeting in what the opposition portrayed as an attempt to bring down the unity government, raising political tensions.

Mr Hadi warned last week he may sack his compromise government, angry at interference by the ousted president and his threats to withdraw members of his party from the unity government.

The 34-member cabinet is split between the GPC and the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

After Mr Saleh's threat, the JMP presented a 12-point plan to Mr Hadi, demanding Mr Saleh's removal as head of his party and the sacking of some military loyalists.

Mohammed Qahtan, a JMP leader, said that there could not be an agreement on the transition while Mr Saleh remained leader of the party. The plan calls for military reforms, including the creation of a presidential guard under Mr Hadi that would disempower Mr Saleh's son and nephews in the armed forces.

"These are some of the steps that should be taken before we go to a national dialogue conference. We cannot talk about dialogue while Sanaa remains hostage to Saleh and his family," said Mr Qahtan.

Abdu Al Janadi, a GPC spokesman, said there was nothing in the peace deal that bans the former president from politics.

A western diplomat in Sanaa said yesterday the diplomatic community that has thrown its weight behind the Gulf-brokered transition is disturbed by some of Mr Saleh's recent moves and statements.

"We are very concerned by the interference of Saleh in the work of the government and that the transfer of power is not completed," said the diplomat.

"We understand there should be a good atmosphere for the dialogue but the national dialogue should not be hostage to such issues. It should be unconditional."

The US is worried about the expansion of the Yemeni affiliate of Al Qaeda, which has exploited the decline in central government control that flourished under the anti-Saleh uprising that began last January and eventually forced him from power.