Thirteen dead as army shells south Yemen funeral tent

The Southern Movement had set up the tent for mourners paying condolences following the killing of a man during clashes with security forces.

By (AFP)

Published: Fri 27 Dec 2013, 9:07 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 5:33 PM

An army tank shelled a funeral tent erected by the Southern Movement at a school in Yemen on Friday, killing 13 people, including children, a medic and witnesses said.

Tensions have run high in recent days in the formerly independent south, home to an increasingly assertive secessionist movement, raising fears that Al Qaeda’s powerful Yemen affiliate could exploit the growing unrest in the Arab world’s poorest country.

A long-running dispute over whether and how to grant the south limited autonomy has hindered the political transition following the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down last year following Arab Spring-inspired protests.

“Thirteen people have died, among them three children” in Friday’s attack, a medic from Al Nasr hospital in the southern Daleh province said. Medics at other hospitals said more than 20 people were wounded, some critically.

Witnesses said an army tank had shelled the tent in Sanah, 300 kilometres south of the capital, with one saying that troops had kept firing “when we tried to hospitalise the casualties,” adding that “there are wounded victims still inside the tent.”

The Southern Movement — which is campaigning for autonomy or outright secession for the formerly independent south — had set up the tent for mourners paying condolences following the killing of a man during clashes with security forces on Monday.

The clashes in Daleh erupted when secessionists attempted to storm the governorate building to hoist the flag of the former South Yemen. The fighting left two Yemeni policemen and a civilian dead.

Violence has intensified in south Yemen amid anger over the killing of local tribal chief Said Ben Habrish and his bodyguards at an army checkpoint earlier this month after they refused to hand over their weapons. Two soldiers were also killed in the exchange.

On Thursday, gunmen killed four soldiers and wounded several others in an attack on an army checkpoint in the southeast Hadramawt province, an Al Qaeda stronghold.

A security official said a cousin of South Yemen’s exiled president Ali Salem Al Baid was among the militants who assaulted the checkpoint, accusing the Southern Movement and the Hadramawt tribal alliance of being behind the attack.

Baid leads a hardline faction of the Southern Movement that, alongside the tribal alliance, has launched protests over the death of Ben Habrish.

But a leader of the tribal alliance denied any involvement in the checkpoint attack.

The violence has sparked warnings by Yemeni officials that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, blamed for most of the increasingly common hit-and-run strikes on military personnel and officials, could exploit the growing unrest in the south.

“Yemeni armed forces have two enemies fighting them — Al Qaeda and the tribal alliance. We no longer know which of them is behind attacks targeting checkpoints and military camps,” a military official said.

Yemen’s deputy interior minister Naser Lakhsha expressed similar fears, saying “several army camps and checkpoints have come under attack in recent days” in the south.

Protest organisers are pressing authorities to hand over the suspect accused of killing Ben Habrish and to provide jobs for southerners in the security forces and oil sector.

Lakhsha said the government could respond to the “legitimate demands” of the people in Hadramawt.

Following the end of British colonial rule in 1967, southern Yemen was independent until union with the north in 1990. A secession attempt four years later sparked a brief but bloody civil war that ended with northern forces taking over the south.

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