SANAA (Reuters) – Yemeni security forces shot dead a southern separatist near a remote military checkpoint, local sources said Sunday, in violence that could inflame already high tensions in the south.
Violence has continued in south Yemen despite an offer of talks by Sanaa, which faces international pressure to quell domestic unrest and focus on a bigger global threat: al Qaeda.
Yemen, which has targeted separatists in security sweeps following an increase in southern unrest in recent weeks, offered talks last week to hear separatists’ grievances. While protests diminished in recent days, some violence has continued.
State media described the man who was killed, Wadie Juneidy, as a wanted and dangerous leader of a criminal gang who had been driving a stolen car. It said he was killed Saturday in an exchange of gunfire in the southern province of Abyan.
A southern opposition news website identified Juneidy as a separatist, however, and described his killing as an assassination. It said Juneidy was shot dead after security forces stopped him at a checkpoint, and he resisted arrest.
“They tried to arrest him without any legal basis, except that he resisted and refused to surrender himself,” the Aden Press news website said, adding he was killed in “cold blood.”
Yemen shot to the forefront of Western security concerns after the Yemen-based regional arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for a failed attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December.
Western allies and neighboring oil exporter Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda is exploiting instability on multiple fronts in impoverished Yemen to recruit and train militants for attacks in the region and beyond.
Yemen, in addition to its conflict with southern separatists, is also trying to bring an end to a northern Shi’ite insurgency that in November drew in Saudi Arabia.
It sealed a truce with northern rebels last month. While insurgent violence in north Yemen has faded, conflict has escalated with separatists in the south.
North and South Yemen united in 1990, but many in the south — home to most of Yemen’s oil industry — complain northerners have seized resources and discriminate against them. On Thursday, thousands gathered for demonstrations across Yemen to demand an easing of the crackdown in the south.