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Saleh’s son agrees to give up his missiles

Ahmad Ali’s apparent compliance with army shake-up eases fears of more turmoil

Gulf News

Sana’a A powerful general who is the son of Yemen’s former president has agreed to give up his missiles after his elite Republican Guard was disbanded by the Arab nation’s new leader, sources at the presidency said on Thursday.

Brigadier-General Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh’s apparent compliance with an armed forces shake-up ordered by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Wednesday eases fears of more turmoil in a country in the throes of a tense political transition.

The overhaul is widely seen as part of efforts to curb the still-considerable influence of Saleh’s father, ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, loosen his family’s grip on the military and implement an internationally-backed plan to restore stability.

“General Ahmad has started to transfer all the missiles under his command to President Hadi,” a source at the presidential palace said on condition of anonymity.

“The decree will be executed. I don’t think anyone can stand against the international community, which has threatened to impose sanctions against those who oppose Hadi’s decrees.”

Earlier this month Saleh had refused orders from Hadi to hand over long-range Scud missiles to the Defence Ministry.

Another presidential source confirmed the missile transfer and said the US, once an ally of Saleh in combating Al Qaida, had told his relatives “that the international community supports the decisions made by President Hadi”.

Officials at Ahmad Saleh’s office were not available for comment. But his father’s press secretary said Hadi’s decisions to restructure the armed forces were “welcomed”.

After a year of protests against his rule, President Saleh made way for Hadi in February under a Gulf-brokered transition plan backed by Washington and its Western allies.

But the former president’s continuing clout in the army and wider society worries its neighbours and Western nations who fear further conflict could plunge Yemen back into chaos.

The agreement, signed in Saudi Arabia, aims to hold Yemen together in the face of crippling economic woes, internal divisions and separatist movements, as well as the challenge from Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen.

Ahmad Saleh’s apparent decision to give up some of his heaviest weapons could smooth the way for national reconciliation talks foreseen under the power transfer deal.

Senior diplomats of 10 countries, including Gulf states, European Union members, the US and Russia, agreed in Sana’a in September to recommend that their governments start preparing possible measures against transition “spoilers”.

“The message of the UN Security Council is clear that it will not allow obstructing the political settlement in Yemen,” UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar said on Thursday.

Lawlessness in Yemen has alarmed neighbour and top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia, as well as the US, which increasingly view the impoverished Arab state as a front line in their struggle against Al Qaida and its affiliates.

Hadi has promised to unify the army, which is split between allies and foes of the former president. In August, he transferred the command of some Republican Guards units to a newly formed force called the Presidential Protective Forces under his authority.

That attempt to trim General Ahmad’s power ignited clashes between Yemeni troops and about 200 members of the Republican Guard, who surrounded the Defence Ministry.