SANAA, Yemen – Mediated talks between the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda to persuade the militants to give up their weapons or move out of the southern port city of Aden have failed, Yemeni security officials in government-controlled Aden and tribal mediators said Saturday.
Tribal and public figures accepted by both sides, who have been involved in mediation talks, told The Associated Press the discussions began about three months ago, after government forces pushed Houthi Shiite rebels out of Aden. The mediators told AP they have also been trying to convince Al Qaeda to withdraw from areas they control in al-Houta, the capital of Lahj province.
After the Houthis were expelled from Aden in July, Al Qaeda appears to have taken advantage of the security vacuum as pro-government forces moved outside Aden to challenge the Houthis, as clashes raged between the two sides in other parts of the country.
Yemen has been embroiled in fighting between Houthis and allied army units against forces loyal to the internationally recognized government as well as southern separatists and other militants.
The conflict gained international attention when the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, in September last year, and escalated in March as a Saudi-led coalition started launching airstrikes against Houthi positions.
Al Qaeda militants had been fighting alongside pro-government forces without revealing their affiliation, focusing on capturing and storing weapons during the clashes with the Houthis, a security official in Aden said. Security officials said Al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups in Aden obtained more than 55 armored vehicles, 22 tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and large amounts of other weapons during the fighting and hid them underground and in fields.
Aden's governor, Gaafar Mohamed Saad, issued a ban Friday against carrying weapons in the streets. The decree, which went into effect Saturday, stipulates security forces would immediately confiscate illegal weapons.
Officials and witnesses in Aden said Al Qaeda has held large armed parades in the city in the past two days. Washington considers al-Qaeda's Yemen branch to be the most dangerous offshoot of the terror network.
Ahmed Hashem, an Aden resident, said locals supported the weapons ban. With so many weapons in the streets, "we now cannot even tell who is Al Qaeda, who is Islamic State, who is just a thug and who is from the resistance (against the Houthis)," he said.
The decision to confiscate illegal weapons came after talks failed, according to security officials in Aden.
The mediators told AP they tried to convince the militants to lay down their weapons and integrate into society, promising they wouldn't be harassed if they do. When that failed, they tried to convince them to take their weapons and leave Aden, but the militants refused again, saying they have the right to partake in running the city after they participated in the fighting, according to the mediators.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they're not authorized to speak to journalists.