SANAA (AFP) – A separatist leader accused of Al-Qaeda links, his wife and two children as well as two policemen were killed in a gunbattle in southern Yemen on Monday, officials and his supporters said.
“Ali Saleh al-Yafei, wanted for links with Al-Qaeda, was killed as well as some of his followers” in an assault on his hideout, the defence ministry said in a brief statement.
Sources within south Yemen’s separatist movement told AFP that Yafei’s wife, their son and daughter also died in the raid in the southern province of Abyan.
Abyan’s governor, Ahmad al-Maisari, told AFP that two policemen were killed and a third wounded when a police force stormed the hideout, while three wanted suspects were arrested.
Witnesses said the clashes broke out in the town of Zinjibar with armed followers of Yafei, a head of the separatist South Movement, and that at least five of his supporters were wounded.
Yemeni authorities accuse Yafei as well as other leaders of the South Movement of having links to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a charge not confirmed by independent sources.
The two sides traded fire with assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades around the house of Yafei, who was accused of supplying arms to South Movement militants, the witnesses said.
Local sources, meanwhile, said another southern activist was killed on Sunday night in an exchange of fire between demonstrators and security forces in Gilbawazir in the southeastern province of Hadramawt.
Thousands of southern Yemenis took to the streets of Abyan, Daleh and Lahj provinces for a second straight day on Sunday to demand the independence of the country’s south.
The protests were timed to coincide with a two-day international donors’ meeting on Yemen in neighbouring Saudi Arabia on providing aid to the impoverished Arabian peninsula country.
Protesters carried portraits of former vice president Ali Salem al-Bidh and southern flags.
Bidh, who led the south to unity with the north in 1990 but is now a major separatist leader, called on Friday for “two days of southern anger” during the donor conference.
The protests were generally peaceful but police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators in the city of Daleh.
Three Abyan civilians suffered bullet wounds on Saturday when police intervened against protesters trying to cut the highway between Zinjibar and the south’s main city Aden, witnesses said.
Pro-independence demonstrations have multiplied in the south amid Yemen’s worsening economy and complaints of discrimination in favour of northerners by the Sanaa government.
South Yemen was independent from 1967 until 1990, when it united with the north. The south seceded in 1994, sparking a short-lived conflict that ended when the south was overrun by northern troops.