Al Qaeda in Yemen says it has freed 73 captured soldiers

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Al Qaeda in Yemen said it released on Sunday 73 soldiers captured by its fighters during battles with government forces in the south of the country.

The terror network said in an emailed statement that the release of the soldiers followed mediation efforts by tribal elders and senior clerics. Relatives of some freed prisoners confirmed the release.

The release was likely to bolster the standing of the terror network in Yemen, where its fighters took advantage of more than a year of political turmoil to capture areas in the nearly lawless south. The negotiations went through both tribal and religious channels, suggesting that the network in the south has in some ways been integrated in the area's social fabric.

The soldiers were freed in the city of Jaar in the southern province of Abyan in a ceremony attended by top leaders of the terror network in Yemen, including military leader Qasim al-Rimi. The mediation lasted three days and involved asking Yemen's military to halt attacks on the city, including airstrikes, while the talks were in progress. The soldiers left in trucks and private cars for the nearby port city of Aden.

Jaar has been held by for a year. The province's capital Zinjibar is also under control but government troops fought their way into its center last week.

The released soldiers pledged in writing not to resume fighting militants, the group said.

In a separate development, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has resigned from his post as head of his one-time ruling Congress Party, paving the way for his successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to take over when the party holds its annual meeting later this year. Abdul-Karim al-Aryani, the party's vice president, will lead the party until then.

Saleh was forced to step down in the face of a yearlong uprising against his authoritarian rule. He handed over power to Hadi in February as part of a U.S.-backed peace deal offered by neighboring Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.