Militants in south Yemen kidnapped an army officer on Sunday near a checkpoint north of the restive town of Habilayn, a security official and a leader of the Southern Movement told AFP.
“Gunmen from the Southern Movement kidnapped Captain Mohammed Ali Abdullah Hadyan near a security checkpoint north of the town of Habilayn” in Lahij province, the official said.
Taher Tammah, a leader of the movement which is spearheading opposition to the Sanaa government, confirmed the abduction.
He said the officer belongs to an influential tribe, and his kidnapping was aimed at “putting pressure on the occupying authorities to release our detainees.”
Tribal mediation had already led to the release on Saturday of five soldiers the southern militants seized last week in a bid to secure freedom for the movement’s supporters held by Sanaa, Tammah said.
Capturing soldiers appears to be a new tactic adopted by the Southern Movement, which brings together groups with demands ranging from social and political equality with the north to the total secession of southern provinces.
Tensions on Sunday remained high in Habilayn, the site of deadly clashes between the military and the southern militants in which five soldiers and a militant were killed.
Witnesses said on Saturday that the government has sent reinforcements to Habilayn, and that there was fighting overnight between the army and gunmen.
“The situation in our town is very difficult and last night I was coming from Aden and could not make it to my house in Habilayn because of the clashes,” resident Adib al-Sayed told AFP.
Local officials and tribal dignitaries have been locked in negotiations with the military in an attempt to convince it to withdraw from the restive town, a tribal source had told AFP.
But a security official said the Sanaa government was determined to restore “security and order” in Habilayn and nearby towns.
South Yemen, where many residents complain of discrimination in the Sanaa government’s allocation of resources, was independent from the 1967 British withdrawal from the port city of Aden until it united with the north in 1990.
The region seceded in 1994, sparking a short-lived civil war that ended with it being overrun by northern troops.