A soldier loyal to Yemen's government walks at the base of the Yemeni Army's 3rd Region in the country's central province of Marib Image Credit: REUTERS

Al Mukalla: In Yemen’s southern province of Shabwa, local army forces have implemented a presidential order aimed at cracking down on oil and arms smuggling by a local figure linked to ousted Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

An aide to the governor of Shabwa province told Gulf News on Sunday that army soldiers from the 21st Brigade in Markha’a district seized dozens of oil trucks heading to Iran-backed Al Houthi-controlled territories in northern Yemen.

“Oil truckers were transporting oil from the seaport in Bayda to Bayhan and other provinces overran by Al Houthis,” the official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

The official said that angry Al Houthi militants responded by firing on the brigade with Katyusha rockets from Bayhan.

Alarmed by the scale of oil and arms smuggling in Shabwa, Hadi ordered a speedy crackdown last week.

Hadi asked senior government officials to use “all means” at their disposal to stop the smuggling. The governor of Shabwa Abdullah Al Nasi did not respond to Gulf News’ calls, but an official who was briefed by the governor on the outcome of the meeting told Gulf News that Hadi was “very annoyed”.

“He promised to order the recruitment of 3,000 new personnel into the army and 4,000 others in security services,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Residents in Shabwa’s Radhoum area have long complained that smuggling had flourished in the tiny seaport since Al Houthi militants were kicked out in August.

They say a number of well known figures linked to Saleh have used the small and historical Bayda seaport, in the district of Radhoum to smuggle fuel and arms into the country and then carry them in trucks to Al Houthi-controlled areas. “They smuggle everything: fuel, Africans (migrants), arms and drugs,” the official said.A Saudi-led Arab coalition launched a massive air strike campaign in March against Al Houthi expansion throughout the country in order to restore Yemen’s legitimate president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Saleh and his loyalists have oddly allied themselves with Al Houthi militants, despite having clashed in the past.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition successfully shot down a ballistic missile fired by Al Houthi militants into the central province of Marib, a security official told Gulf News.

The missile that was targeting a coalition military camp was intercepted at midnight on Saturday over oil and gas installations.

Witnesses in the capital, reported spotting a big ball of fire in the sky after it was shot down.

The official said that the Al Houthi shelling comes after the militant group suffered a string of military losses in the strategic Haylan mountains.

“Yemeni forces are forcing Al Houthis out of most of the mountain which overlooks the capital, Marib,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The central province of Marib has been used as a base for Arab coalition troops and Yemeni forces battling Al Houthis in the neighbouring province of Jawf.