Yemen fighting intensifies, US envoy in talks

The tribesmen headed towards Sana’a to back Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar.

Last Updated: Jun 02, 2011, 23:06 PM IST

Sanaa: Forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh battled with tribal fighters in Yemen`s capital Thursday in overnight clashes that killed dozens as a U.S. envoy flew around the region to try and stop a civil war.

Ferocious street fighting in Sanaa which grew out of protests against Saleh`s rule since January has killed at least 135 people in the past 10 days, calling into question the future of an impoverished Arab state already near economic disaster.

Saleh has reneged on deals brokered by regional leaders to secure a peaceful end to his nearly 33 years in power. President Barack Obama`s top counter-terrorism adviser arrived in the region Wednesday to reinforce the drive to oust him.

Global powers worry that chaos in Yemen, home to an ambitious militant group known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and bordering the world`s biggest oil exporter Saudi Arabia, would raise risks for world oil supplies.

Saleh`s special forces were deployed to help "clean up" a ministry held by tribal forces, the defense ministry said, as battles near the airport briefly grounded flights.

Abdelqawi al-Qeysi, a spokesman for the Hashed tribal federation said: "The weapons that America gave them to fight terrorism are being used against civilians."

The outside world has had little leverage on events in Yemen, where tribal allegiances are the most powerful element in a volatile social fabric, analysts said.

Saudi Arabia, which has strong, longstanding ties with Yemeni tribes, is likely to try to apply another round of pressure on Saleh to step aside to avert disaster in a country of 23 million that is awash with guns.

Even before the wave of protests against his rule, Saleh was struggling to quell a separatist rebellion in the south, a Shi`ite insurgency in the north and al Qaeda militancy.

U.S. envoy John Brennan left Saudi Arabia Thursday for more talks on Yemen in the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. official in Saudi Arabia said. He will seek the help of the two countries` leaders to pressure Saleh to accept the exit deal.

DIVIDED CAPITAL, FRACTURED COUNTRY

Yemen is engulfed in multiple conflicts, with street battles between tribal groups and Saleh`s forces in Sanaa, popular unrest across the country and fighting against AQAP and other Islamist militants who seized the coastal city of Zinjibar.

One constant factor is Yemen`s crippling poverty. Jobs and food are scarce, corruption is rampant and about 40 percent of the population struggles to live on less than $2 a day.

In Sanaa, pro-Saleh forces have been fighting the powerful Hashed tribal confederation led by Sadeq al-Ahmar, with mortars, machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades for nearly two weeks.

The capital is split, with Saleh loyalists holding the south against tribesmen and renegade military units in the north.

Residents said dozens were likely to have been killed in the most recent round of fighting, mostly for control of government buildings and near the compounds of Saleh`s tribal foes.

Civilians have been fleeing the city in the thousands, hurriedly packing possessions into their cars.