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Yemen defense minister visits Ma’rib amid tensions - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Al-Subaihi leaves the presidential palace after being sworn in as defense minister on November 9, 2014. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)

Maj. Gen. Mahmoud Al-Subaihi leaves the presidential palace after being sworn in as defense minister on November 9, 2014. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemeni Minister of Defense Mahmoud Al-Subaihi met with military and tribal officials from the oil-rich Ma’rib governorate on Tuesday as conflict continued to rage over control of the country’s energy resources.

The defense minister traveled to Ma’rib for talks with the local officials that focused on the need for maintaining security and stability, with Subaihi urging military authorities to fulfill their national duty of protecting vital state infrastructure in the eastern governorate.

After taking control of Sana’a on September 21, the powerful Houthi movement has been attempting to extend its influence over Ma’rib through the deployment of tribal militias in the area, local sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Asharq Al-Awsat. The Houthi tribesmen are reportedly deployed from Saada, the group’s northern stronghold. The step is reminiscent of the Houthi takeover of the capital and other northern and central parts of Yemen.

Local sources maintained that the Shi’ite militia and officials from the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party are trying to persuade local tribal leaders to form militias, known as People’s Committees, to maintain security and stability and guard vital installations, including oil pipelines and electricity grids.

Houthi efforts to form People’s Committees in Ma’rib have so far met with resistance from local tribal leaders who refuse to allow fighters from other parts of Yemen into their governorate, a senior Islamist Islah party member Sheikh Mabkhut Bin Abboud told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Bin Abboud ridiculed the Houthi efforts to form local militia, saying: “If there is any agreement to form People’s Committees, it will be from locals not from people outside of Ma’rib.”

Defense minister Subaihi also emphasized the need for the armed forces to repel sabotage operations on electricity grids and oil pipelines in the governorate. According to the official, these attacks have cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue since the start of 2014.

No information was immediately available about whether or not a deal had been reached between the defense minister and Ma’rib’s authorities.

Fighting broke out between Houthi fighters and Sunni tribesman in Sana’a on Wednesday with local and international media reporting that at least 5 people had been killed following a Houthi attack on the Al-Ahmar clan compound in the capital. The Al-Ahmar family is a well-known Yemeni clan with strong ties to the Sunni-dominated Islamist Islah party. Local media reported that Houthi fighters had completely taken control of the Al-Ahmar compound on Wednesday, with the Shi’ite militia further strengthening its grip on the capital.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee said authorities freed eight hostages, including seven soldiers and a US military adviser, in an attack on an Al-Qaeda base in the south.

The hostages were captured near Al-Anad air base, where US military officials provide Yemen’s government with logistical support in the fight against Al-Qaeda. The base is also home to a number of US drones that are used to target Al-Qaeda leaders in the region.

The US adviser is believed to have been kidnapped from the air base by Al-Qaeda militants who criticize the government for allowing US drones to operate in Yemen.

In separate news, hundreds of foreign students affiliated with the hard-line Salafist school of thought are being forced to leave Yemen, particularly in the southern Lahj governorate, under pressure from Shi’ite militants, local officials and Mayor Ahmed Abdullah Al-Majidi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Shi’ite Houthi movement and Salafists have often clashed in Yemen, most recently in Yemen’s central Al-Bayda governorate. A number of ceasefires mediated by the government have failed, with Salafists now finding themselves in retreat following the Shi’ite militias advance across several Yemeni provinces.

“We reject the presence of foreigners who practice aggression and slaughter against Yemenis under any slogan, given the risk they pose to the country,” Houthi movement official spokesman Mohamed Abdulsalam told Asharq Al-Awsat.