Yemen: tribal militants, southern separatists attack

Two US tourists taken hostage earlier this week were released by tribal militants on May 25 after Yemen‘s president agreed to free a prisoner held by the state. The release came as Yemeni authorities apologized for an erroneous air-strike that killed Sheik Jabir al-Shabwani, deputy governor of Marib province, who had been trying to persuade a local leader of “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” to surrender. The target of the attack, Mohammed Saeed Jardan, escaped, with reports conflicting on whether he was injured. Al-Shabwani was reportedly travelling to meet him when he was killed.

The botched air-strike apparently incited even more violence as a group of armed tribesmen bombed an oil pipeline and attacked government offices and the Republican Palace. Several people were killed in shooting between the villagers and security forces, and witnesses said 20 tanks and armored vehicles surrounded local government offices to ward off the attackers. Tribesmen fired at the power station, which led to a blackout in some areas of the country, including the capital.

Tribal sources said the government sent them a gift of compensation for the loss of Shabwani, including 200 machine-guns, a land cruiser and 5 million Yemeni rial ($22,830). Shabwani’s kinsmen had threatened a “harsh response” if the government did not announce the results of its inquiry into the raid that killed Shabwani and four of his entourage.

Southern separatists launch insurgency
Yemen now faces multiple converging crises: with al-Qaeda and allied tribal militants in Marib and Hadramout, with Shi’ite Houthi rebels in the north, and now with separatists in the south who have recently re-activated their insurgency. Separatists ambushed two armed forces convoys May 27, killing three soldiers and wounding 11 others. The attacks came a week after Unification Day, the May 22 anniversary of the 1990 merging of north and south Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh took the occasion of the anniversary to announce an amnesty for all imprisoned southern separatists and Houthi rebels. “We hope they benefit from this amnesty and be good citizens,” he said, without clarifying when it would come into effect. Authorities two days later freed 98 imprisoned in connection with the separatist movement. But human rights groups say up to 3,000 are being held in clandestine jail. (Reuters, AFP, May 28; AlJazeera, May 26; NYT, May 25; IRIN, May 24; Arab News, May 22)

See our last post on Yemen.

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