UN backs Yemen’s Hadi as Huthis seize key airport

ADEN: A UN Security Council emergency session on Sunday (Mar 22) backed Yemen’s embattled president after Shiite militiamen seized a key airport and the deteriorating security situation prompted Washington to evacuate personnel.

The 15-member Council voiced unanimous support for President Abderabbo Mansour Hadi, who had called for “urgent intervention” amid mounting unrest, including suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State group that killed 142 people in Sanaa on Friday.

The past few months have seen Yemen plunge into chaos, with the Huthi Shiite militia seizing control of the capital and forcing Hadi to flee to the main southern city of Aden.

On Sunday, militia leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi urged Yemenis to mobilise and join his militia for an offensive against IS and Al-Qaeda in the south of the impoverished country.

Speaking on television, he also dismissed Hadi as “a puppet in the hands of forces of evil, led by the United States”, which he accuses of plotting against Yemen with funds from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Huthi also threatened to withdraw from UN-brokered dialogue between Yemen’s many rival groups, implicitly rejecting a Saudi offer to host talks. “Dialogue cannot go on for ever. It’s a charade,” he said.

Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, is increasingly divided between a north controlled by the Huthis, who are allegedly backed by Iran, and a south dominated by Hadi supporters.

On Sunday, the Huthis and their allies seized the airport in Taez, which is just 180 kilometres north of Aden on the road to Sanaa and seen as a strategic entry point to Hadi’s southern refuge.

HUTHIS, HADI FORCES DEPLOY

Security sources told AFP that some 300 men, including Huthi fighters and allied forces, had deployed at the airport and reinforcements were arriving from Sanaa by air and land.

The forces allied with the Huthis included members of the former central security force, a unit seen as loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh was forced from power in early 2012 after a year-long popular uprising and has been accused of working with the Huthis to restore his influence.

Security sources said Huthi militiamen were also patrolling parts of Taez and had set up checkpoints some 80 kilometres south of the city on the road to Aden.

A military source said troops loyal to Hadi and southern paramilitary forces had deployed in Lahj province north of Aden, in anticipation of a possible Huthi advance.

Huthi militiamen killed one protester in Taez when they fired on thousands of people demanding that the rebels withdraw, activists said.

And six tribesmen were killed in Qania, in Marib province, in a clash with Huthis advancing towards the eastern province, a tribal source said. The source claimed that 30 militiamen were killed. AFP could not verify the death tolls.

Hadi, backed by Western and Gulf states as Yemen’s legitimate ruler, has struggled to reassert his authority since escaping house arrest in Sanaa last month and fleeing to Aden.

On Sunday, the Security Council said it stood by “the legitimacy” of Hadi, and urged against any foreign interference, in an implicit reference to Iran’s alleged support for the Huthis.

UN THREATENS UNSPECIFIED MEASURES

“The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen, and its commitment to stand by the people of Yemen,” it said.

It also denounced “unilateral” actions by the Huthis and threatened unspecified measures against the militia unless it cedes control of Sanaa and other regions. UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar warned that recent events “seem to be leading Yemen to the edge of a civil war”.

In a letter to the council, Hadi said the Huthis and their allies were threatening security in Yemen, the region and beyond. He called for “urgent intervention by all available means to stop this aggression that is aimed at undermining the legitimate authority, the fragmentation of Yemen and its peace and stability”.

Hadi has been trying to cement his power base in Aden which he has declared the temporary capital after retracting a resignation tendered under Huthi pressure.

Yemen, a long-time US ally, is increasingly divided along sectarian lines, with the Huthis facing resistance from Sunni tribes and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Washington considers AQAP as the most dangerous branch of the global militant network, and has targeted its bases with drone attacks.

But with security deteriorating, Washington announced on Saturday it was evacuating its remaining personnel. Washington would “continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have capabilities postured in the area to address them”, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

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