Violence erupts in Yemen cities after cease-fire fails

by
June 1, 2011
By Iona Craig, Los Angeles TimesReporting from Sana, Yemen—

Yemen’s capital and other cities again erupted into violent chaos Tuesday after a cease-fire collapsed between forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and tribal fighters, who seized at least four government buildings.

The heavy fighting in Sana began late Monday evening as Saleh’s Republican Guard troops and supporters of his rival tribal chief Sadiq Ahmar pounded each other in fresh clashes. Mortar-shell explosions and gunfire ripped the air early Tuesday.

South of Sana, security forces opened fire on demonstrators in the city of Taiz, bringing the death toll there since Sunday to 50, according to reports received by the United Nations. Yemen’s opposition put the death toll at 100. In the southern coastal town of Zinjibar, government officials said five soldiers were killed in an ambush by Islamic militants.

The fighting in Sana centered around the northern district of Hasaba, where Ahmar lives. Black smoke filled the sky. Most of the neighborhood was deserted, but some Hasaba residents refused to leave their homes, fearing looters and armed men would take over their properties.

“This morning was the most intense fighting we’ve seen yet,” said one local resident brandishing an AK-47, as he stayed to defend his property. “If I leave I will have no home to come back to. They will destroy everything.”

The neighborhood had turned into a battle zone after Saleh refused to sign a regionally backed agreement to leave office after four months of pro-democracy protests. Shortly after plans for the signing collapsed, Saleh’s troops traded fire with fighters loyal to Ahmar, the head of the powerful Hashid tribe, which counts Saleh as a member. The two sides battled all last week before agreeing to a cease-fire Saturday.

But Tuesday, Ahmar’s tribesmen took control of the Interior Ministry, the Water Ministry, the ruling General People’s Congress party building and Hasaba’s police station.

Saleh’s command over Sana is shrinking. The west of the capital lies under the control of the 1st Armored Division, whose commander, Gen. Ali Mohsen Ahmar, defected in mid-March after 52 antigovernment protesters were shot dead by snipers. Saleh maintains control of the southern neighborhood of Sabaeen, home to the presidential palace.

Yemen’s state-run news agency denied accusations that the violence in Taiz was part of an organized crackdown against protesters, stating that “armed groups” from the opposition coalition had attacked a security station and kidnapped soldiers.

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