Yemen arrests 80 separatists over southern unrest

Source: Reuters

* Yemen authorities arrest 80 in three days of sweeps * Secessionists held over unrest, violence in Lahj province * $150 mln U.S. security funding approved for Yemen * Qaeda figure says training local forces new U.S. strategy (Adds U.S. funds for Yemen, statement by al Qaeda figure) By Mohammed Mukhashaff ADEN, Yemen, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Yemen has arrested some 80 suspected separatists after army positions in south Yemen came under fire and shops owned by northerners were burned, an official and southern residents said on Monday. The three-day sweeps followed a week of unrest in which separatists tried to block a road linking the southern province of Lahj to the main southern city of Aden, the official said. “These people were behind acts of strife and the burning of shops in the city of al-Houta in Lahj province,” a government official told Reuters, adding the suspects would be charged. Yemen, the poorest Arab country, is battling a Shi’ite insurgency in the north as well as a resurgent al Qaeda, whose local arm claimed responsibility for a failed December bomb attack on a U.S.-bound plane as it approached Detroit. Western governments and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, fear al Qaeda is exploiting the instability in Yemen to recruit and train militants to launch attacks in the region and beyond. People in south Yemen, home to most Yemeni oil facilities, complain that northerners have abused a 1990 agreement uniting the country to grab resources and discriminate against them. U.S. TO DOUBLE SECURITY FUNDING In Washington, a senior U.S. congressional official said on Monday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved more than doubling U.S. funding to train and equip Yemeni security forces to combat al Qaeda. The $150 million approved by Gates for fiscal 2010, up from $67 million last year, underscores U.S. concerns about the growing threat of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which claimed the failed attack on the passenger plane. The sum does not include covert U.S. assistance for Yemen, which has quietly increased in recent months.The $150 million in funding will be used to supply equipment to and training for Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, said the official, who asked not to be identified. The Pentagon did not immediately comment.In a statement posted on Islamist websites on Monday, a top al Qaeda figure said local troops were being trained to fight militants under a new U.S. strategy because Western troops were seen as lacking legitimacy in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is a covert admission of defeat, a new way to flee the battlefield … through a proxy war and the use of client troops. And this may mean that the Mujahideen have won half of the battle,” said Abu Yahya al-Libi, who is believed to be based in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The latest tensions flared in southern Yemen when a protester was killed earlier this month after police opened fire. Six others were injured. Later, police clashed with demonstrators who came to claim the protester’s body for burial, igniting unrest in which separatists burned northern-owned shops, residents said. In further violence, separatists killed two people including a senior police official on Friday in an ambush. Two policemen were wounded in an attack by gunmen in the town of Dalea on Saturday, residents said. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa and Adam Entous in Washington; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Firouz Sedarat)
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