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Yemen offers dialogue with al Qaeda

By Hakim Almasmari, For CNN
updated 1:50 PM EST, Sun February 5, 2012
Yemeni anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in Sanaa on Sunday.
Yemeni anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in Sanaa on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The offer is in hopes of reaching a long-term cease-fire
  • Al Qaeda currently controls large areas of two Yemeni provinces
  • The group has not yet responded to the offer

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Yemen'shighest military authority Sunday announced its willingness to open channels of dialogue with al Qaeda in hopes of reaching a long-term cease-fire agreement.

The military committee was formed as part of the power transfer deal in November. Spokesman Ali Saeed Obaid told CNN that the new Yemeni military leadership is opening its hands and will seek new solutions with al Qaeda fighters.

Al Qaeda currently controls large areas in the southern Abyan and Shabwa provinces of Yemen.

"We are offering al Qaeda a chance to be involved in the political decisions in the country through politics, rather than forcing their views with the use of arms," Obaid said.

Vice President Abdurabu Hadi is chairman of the committee, which is responsible for rebuilding the Yemeni military.

"The committee is hoping that al Qaeda lays down its arms and participates in seeking change democratically, like the millions in Yemen," Obaid said, adding that al Qaeda would in return handover all territories under its control to the military and evacuate government posts.

Al Qaeda has not yet responded to the offer, the committee said.

Yemen's government is in the midst of a transfer of power in which President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a longtime United States ally in the war on terrorism, has agreed to step down after more than 33 years of rule.

Islamist militants seized control of Abyan last May after government positions were suddenly emptied. The province was announced an Islamic emirate a week later, resulting in hundreds of fighters joining their lines.

Hundreds of troops and fighters have been killed daily as part of their efforts to rid the province of the fighters.

More than 100,000 residents of Abyan evacuated the province when clashes intensified last July. They are currently living in shelters in the neighboring provinces of Aden and Lahj.

Last month, a committee formed by Hadi persuaded al Qaeda fighters in Radda, in the nearby province of al-Baitha, to evacuate the area two weeks after they took it over.

Suspected al Qaeda fighters left the town after five days of tense negotiations in exchange for the release of three prisoners, Hadi's office said at the time.

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