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Yemen accuses military of sabotaging key oil pipeline

The Marib oil pipeline was attacked several times after protests started in January 2011 against the government of president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

SANAA // Yemeni authorities have accused military officers of sabotaging one of the country's key oil pipelines during last year's uprising, as the country battles to repair its energy infrastructure.

The Marib oil pipeline was attacked several times after protests started in January 2011 against the government of president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The sabotage halted oil pumping for more than a year, deepened fuel shortages and cost Yemen up to US$15 million (Dh55m) per day, according to the state news agency, Saba.

The allegation that military officers were to blame for the attack on the pipeline has fuelled speculation that Saleh loyalists sabotaged Yemen's energy infrastructure to help keep him in power.

The purpose of such attacks, analysts and critics say, was to prove that only Mr Saleh, who kept the country together during 33 years of rule, would be able to stop the security situation deteriorating.

Yemen's oil minister Hisham Sharaf said that repair work was nearly complete on the pipeline and oil will begin to be pumped within two weeks from oilfields in Marib Province to the Ras Isa terminal on the Red Sea coast. Yemen's oil and gas pipelines were repeatedly sabotaged during the uprising. The Saleh regime blamed tribesmen or militants taking advantage of the power vacuum.

However, Yemen's military committee on Wednesday accused a colonel and four other lower-ranked army officers of being involved in attacks on the Marib pipeline last year. The committee was set up as part of the Gulf Co-operation Council-brokered power transfer to the new president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, and tasked with restoring peace and security.

The committee ordered the suspects to be brought before civil and military tribunals.

The release of the names sends a message to Mr Saleh - who still holds vast influence across the country, including in the highest military posts and in the cabinet of the national unity government - said Ahmed Al Zurkah, an independent analyst. "Saleh and his group have interest in undermining the new president and the unity government to demonstrate they were better. They believe the deterioration of security and services would ensure a comeback to power," said Mr Al Zurkah.

The military committee "know the perpetrators and those behind" the attacks on Yemen's energy infrastructure, he said.

Many in Yemen believe Mr Saleh, who returned to the country in February after medical treatment in the US, is still intent on undermining the new government.

In June, the UN Security Council demanded "the cessation of all actions aimed at undermining the government of national unity and the political transition".

The resolution called for a halt to attacks on oil, gas and electricity infrastructure and to "interference" in government efforts to name new heads of the armed forces.

Wednesday's statement from the military committee appears to show that Mr Hadi is keen to expose any acts of sabotage perpetrated by Saleh loyalists.

Last month, the electricity minister Saleh Sumai said Mr Saleh was the "ringleader behind the attacks on power lines".

A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said last week that they had uncovered a cell overseen by one of Mr Saleh's relatives, which was tasked with sabotaging the power lines in Marib in May 2011. At the height of the uprising, most of Yemen's cities went without power for long periods of the day.

The former president has always denied allegations that he was behind the attacks.

"Whenever the power gets out, they blame Ali Abdullah Saleh," he said at his home in the capital, Sanaa, last week. He said now he is no longer in power, his party is still getting the blame.

Under the deal that led to him giving up power, Mr Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution.

Before the uprising started, Yemen's oil and gas exports accounted for about 75 per cent of government revenues.

Last month, Yemeni soldiers were deployed to protect the gas pipeline feeding the Yemen LNG export terminal, which has been attacked several times this spring by suspected Al Qaeda-linked gunmen, after a military offensive against the militants.

Saudi Arabia has been donating refined oil products to Yemen to help cover its fuel shortage.

malqadhi@thenational.ae

Updated: July 9, 2012 04:00 AM

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