Shiite rebels hold key Sanaa offices after Yemen peace deal
SAANA // Yemeni medical officials say 200 more bodies have been retrieved from the streets of the capital, Saana, bringing to 340 the death toll from a week of fierce clashes between Houthi Shiite rebels on one side and Sunni militiamen and army troops on the other.
The officials say many of the bodies were decomposed after being left for days in the streets and the heat as ambulances could not reach them amid intense fighting. Shiite rebels guarded government offices and army bases in the Yemeni capital alongside troops yesterday following a UN-brokered peace deal aimed at ending a week of deadly fighting.
Sunday’s hard-won agreement, signed by the president and all the main political parties, is intended to put the troubled transition back on track in impoverished Yemen, which borders oil kingpin Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the fight against Al Qaeda.
Sanaa residents began to venture into the streets as the guns fell silent after a week of deadly clashes between the rebels and their Sunni Islamist opponents.
Rebel fighters were guarding joint checkpoints with troops outside the public offices they entered in Sunday’s lightning advance, which include the government building, parliament, army headquarters and the central bank.
Commanders said they had orders to cooperate with the rebels, known as Ansarullah or Houthis, who had waged a decade-long insurgency in the mountains of the far north before launching an attempt for power in the capital last month.
“We are working side by side with Ansarullah to protect public buildings and property,” a military police commander said at a checkpoint near the rebel-controlled state radio headquarters.
The interior ministry had called on the security forces on Sunday not to confront the rebels.
The speed of the advance reflected the fragility of the regime three years after a deadly uprising that forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power.
The rebels brought reinforcements into the capital overnight from their strongholds further north, tribal sources said.
They carried out searches through the night and into yesterday of the homes of their Sunni Islamist opponents, sources said.
They included leading figures in the Islah party as well as Gen Ali Mohsen AL Ahmar, a veteran army officer close to the Islamists.
Sanaa provincial governor Abdulqader Hilal resigned in protest late on Sunday after rebels seized his car at a checkpoint.
The rebels hail from the Zaidi Shiite community, which makes up to 30 per cent of Yemen’s mostly Sunni population but is the majority community in the northern highlands, including Sanaa province.
They have taken advantage of shifting alliances among the region’s Zaidi tribes to advance from their mountain strongholds and lay claim to a stake in power in Sanaa.
Under Sunday’s deal, president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has three days to bring a rebel representative into government as an adviser and to name a neutral replacement for prime minister Mohamed Basindawa.
Mr Basindawa tendered his resignation as the security forces surrendered state institutions without a fight on Sunday although it had yet to be accepted by the president.
In his resignation letter, Mr Basindawa accused Mr Hadi of being autocratic, according to the text released by the council of ministers.
“The partnership between myself and the president in leading the country only lasted for a short period, before it was replaced by autocracy to the extent that the government and I no longer knew anything about the military and security situation,” he wrote.
A security protocol to Sunday’s agreement requires the rebels to hand over the institutions they have seized, and once a new prime minister has been named, to start dismantling the armed protest camps they established in and around the capital last month.
But rebel representatives refused to sign the protocol at Sunday’s ceremony.
Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdessalam said they would only do so once the security forces had apologised for the deaths of rebel protesters during an attempt to storm government headquarters this month.
The deal also requires the president to name an adviser from the separatist Southern Movement, which has been campaigning for the secession of the formerly independent south.
The southerners’ boycott of Mr Hadi’s UN-backed plans for the transition has been another major obstacle.
Southern grievances have allowed parts of the region to become strongholds for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is regarded by Washington as the militant network’s most dangerous arm.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Sunday’s agreement marked a “positive step towards political stability and peace”, according to a statement issued by his spokesman.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Press
Updated: September 22, 2014 04:00 AM