Yemeni troops advance; donors pledge $4 billion aid
Wed May 23, 2012 8:00pm GMT
By Mohammed Mukhashaf and Angus McDowall
ADEN/RIYADH (Reuters) - Yemeni government troops battled Islamist militants
in two southern cities on Wednesday as international donors met in Saudi
Arabia to pledge $4 billion to help stabilise a state that has become a base
for al Qaeda.
Government forces recaptured parts of the strategically important city of
Zinjibar and fought militants in the city of Jaar, leaving 33 militants and
nine soldiers dead, officials and residents said.
The militants, who seized large swathes of southern Yemen last year, have
given shelter and support to al Qaeda's regional wing, which on Monday
killed 100 soldiers in a suicide bombing at a military parade in the capital
Western and Gulf Arab countries have watched with mounting alarm as
political crisis in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state gave al Qaeda
the opportunity to develop a base from which to launch attacks around the
"I assert one more time our support to Yemen to back all the phases of the
political initiative to help achieve security, stability and prosperity in
facing the threats of extremism and terrorism," Saudi Foreign Minister
Prince Saud al-Faisal said in Riyadh.
The meeting in Riyadh was the first to be held by the Friends of Yemen donor
group since Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to step down as president after 33
years in February, allowing the election of a transitional head of state.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, pledged $3.25 billion of the
total of more than $4 billion promised in aid.
In nearly a year of protests and instability, the army split into rival
factions, Islamists established military sway in the south and the economy
"This (aid) shows the Yemeni-Saudi relationship is quite strong and Saudi
Arabia is cognizant that the stability of Saudi Arabia depends on that of
Yemen," Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said.
Almost half of Yemenis do not have enough to eat and urgent aid is needed to
avert a catastrophe, a group of seven aid agencies said on Wednesday ahead
of the Riyadh meeting.
Authorities investigating Monday's suicide bombing captured two militants
wearing explosive belts, the Interior Ministry said on its website on
Wednesday. It did not say when they were captured.
The advance of Yemeni troops into the centre and northern neighbourhoods of
Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province, represents a new front in a
U.S.-backed offensive to reclaim areas seized by al Qaeda-linked insurgents
in the south.
"The army is holding key parts of the centre and north of the city,
including the stadium and government buildings, but there are still pockets
of resistance," a military official said.
At least seven militants were killed and a soldier wounded in gun battles in
the town, a major prize for the insurgents when they took it last year.
Twenty-six militants and nine soldiers were killed in fighting in the
insurgent-held town of Jaar, officials said.
Residents said warplanes bombed a checkpoint set up by the Islamist fighters
in Abyan province's Mudiyah district. No casualties were reported. In
Shaqra, two militants were killed when warplanes bombed their checkpoints,
an official said.
In Sanaa, a pro-Saleh protester was killed when riot police attempted to
disperse a demonstration in the capital.
Yemeni officials say U.S. military personnel have been helping to coordinate
the offensive and dozens of U.S. trainers are in the country. The United
States frequently carries out drone attacks on militants.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have come to regard Yemen's al Qaeda in
the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP, as the group's most dangerous wing.
Early in May, Washington said Western and Arab intelligence agencies had
foiled an AQAP plot to bring down an international airliner with a bomb.
$4 BILLION AID
Riyadh, which provides oil and military aid to its impoverished neighbour,
convened Western and Arab Gulf nations in a lavish new hotel hung with
crystal chandeliers and adorned with bronze equine statues on tall marble
Another meeting, specifically on aid pledges, will be held in Riyadh in late
June, with a ministerial meeting to follow on the sidelines of the U.N.
General Assembly in September.
"The future for Yemen is not about one-off donations. The future for Yemen
is about the process that's already been set in train for the transition of
that country," British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said after the
Burt said Britain had pledged an additional $44 million on top of its
existing aid to Yemen.
The meeting was aimed at strengthening the Yemeni state and returning a
semblance of economic stability to a country where 40 percent of the
population lives on less than $2 a day.
Yemen's modest oil exports were hit by repeated attacks on pipelines last
year. The planning and international cooperation minister told the
conference Yemen needed an initial $2.17 billion to help stabilise the
country, fight militant attacks and ease a humanitarian crisis.
It required a further $5.8 billion in future to develop the economy and
national infrastructure, with $3.7 billion needed by 2014, he added. Yemen
is rapidly depleting its aquifers and the capital Sanaa may run out of water
in the coming decade.
Countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, attended the
meeting, as did the United States, the European Union, France, Egypt and
Russia, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
In April the IMF resumed lending to Yemen, approving the payment of a $93.7
million loan to help it address a balance of payments deficit that worsened
during the political turmoil.
(Additional reporting by Tom Finn in Sanaa and Amena Bakr and Layla Maghrebi
in Dubai; Editing by Michael Roddy and Janet Lawrence)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed May 23 2012 - 17:03:24 EDT