ADEN – Separatists from southern Yemen suspended their participation in UN-sponsored talks on the future of the crisis-hit country as nine soldiers were wounded Saturday in a clash with secessionist fighters.
The violence coincided with a drone strike that killed three suspected Al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen, tribal sources said.
An official in the southern province of Lahij told AFP that separatists opened fire on an army convoy and clashes broke out leaving nine soldiers wounded.
The separatists last week abducted 12 soldiers and threatened to kill them unless the army handed over a military base to offset the growing influence of the Shiite Huthi militia that has seized Sanaa.
Tensions in Yemen have soared since the Huthis overran the presidential palace in the capital in February and placed Western-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, a southerner, under house arrest.
Hadi escaped last week to Aden, where he has been reconsolidating his grip on power buoyed by support from Gulf states which have relocated their embassies to the southern city.
Several countries, including Britain and the United States, closed their embassies in Sanaa over security fears following the Huthi takeover.
On Saturday thousands of Yemenis flooded the streets of Sanaa to protest against the Huthis, and demonstrations also took place in the central cities of Ibb, Taez and Bayda.
Protesters in the capital, including large groups of women, held up banners that read “No to the (Huthi) coup” and “No to armed militias”.
Some women also carried posters calling for the release of Frenchwoman Isabelle Prime, a consultant working on a World Bank-funded project who was abducted Tuesday in Sanaa with her Yemeni interpreter.
Yemen has never managed to achieve stability since longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in early 2012 after a bloody year-long popular uprising.
Hadi’s escape to Aden has turned what was the capital of an independent south Yemen before unification in 1990 into a diplomatic hub.
Kuwait became the latest Gulf nation to reopen its Yemeni embassy in Aden, instead of the militia-controlled capital, following similar moves by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
Aden was the capital of an independent south Yemen before unification in 1990.
The Southern Movement, which seeks the secession of the regions of the formerly independent south, announced overnight Friday that it was pulling out of UN-brokered talks.
“We have suspended our participation in the (UN-backed) national dialogue until it is moved out of the country,” Southern Movement member Yassin Mekkawi told AFP.
He said negotiators were facing mounting “political and psychological pressure”.
UN envoy Jamal Benomar has been shuttling between Yemeni parties to secure an end to the country’s political deadlock and to persuade them to return to the negotiating table in Sanaa.
But there has been widespread disagreement on the venue.
Benomar met Hadi in Aden on Thursday and said the latter wanted the talks moved to a “safe place to which the parties should agree”.
Saleh’s party, however, insists the talks resume in Sanaa, warning of a boycott.
The Huthis, who have long clashed with central authorities, descended from their power base in northern Yemen to seize Sanaa in September.
After moves to expand into southern and central Yemen were checked by fierce resistance from Al-Qaeda and from Sunni tribesmen, the militia grabbed the seats of power in Sanaa in February.
The Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is seen by the United States as the deadliest branch of the global extremist network.
AQAP took advantage of a 2011 uprising that forced veteran president Saleh from power to seize large swathes of the south and east.
On Saturday, three suspected Al-Qaeda militants were killed in a drone strike in the southern province of Shabwa, tribal sources said.
The United States is the only country operating drones in Yemen.