Four Yemeni soldiers killed as unrest swells

SANAA — Four Yemeni soldiers were killed on Tuesday when armed men attacked a checkpoint in the restive south, in the latest in a series of violent incidents rocking the country, a security official said.

Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arab world, is an Al-Qaeda target and mired in a rebellion by Shiites in the northern province of Saada as well as an upsurge in violence in the south.

The growing strife has led parliament to question the government's ability to tackle the country's problems.

The security official said it was unclear who was behind Tuesday's attack, which took place on the road linking the provinces of Abyan and Hadramaut and which also left another soldier wounded.

A website linked to the defence ministry reported that 10 armed "saboteurs" ambushed the checkpoint. The army has launched a manhunt for the assailants, it quoted a security official as saying.

Local sources said the attackers were supporters of Tareq al-Fadhli, a former key ally of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Islamist leader called for a protest against the killing of 16 people at a separatist rally last week.

Fadhli's house has been surrounded by security troops and the authorities are demanding that he hand himself in or leave the country, the sources added.

Yemeni MPs on Monday demanded the government explain its approach to maintaining order and criticised the authorities' handling of security issues.

Rashad al-Alimi, deputy prime minister for defence and security Affairs, acknowledged that the country was facing "a triple challenge: Al-Qaeda, the Shiite rebellion and southern activists".

Since late April the south has been embroiled in violence in which at least 43 people have now been killed. The Sanaa government blames the unrest on separatists who want to restore the south's independence.

But many of the demonstrators have been protesting against poor living conditions in the region.

On Saturday, one person was killed and four wounded when demonstrators clashed with security forces in the southern city of Dhaleh.

The south united with the north in 1990. Four years later, socialists who formerly ruled it led a secession bid that sparked a two-month civil war before the uprising was crushed by northern forces loyal to Saleh.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has also been grappling with a northern insurgency led by Shiite Zaydi rebels, known as Huthis, who want to restore imamate rule that ended in a 1962 republican coup.

"The problem of Yemen is not a security one but a political problem which has roots in the outcome of the war in 1994, which resulted in the marginalisation of the (rebel) Huthis," said Aidarous al-Naqeeb, head of the opposition socialist bloc.

Naqeeb warned against the continuation of such policies, urging dialogue among the different political groups.

A staunch US ally, Yemen has also witnessed attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda on oil installations, foreign targets and government facilities.

In March, four South Korean tourists were killed in Yemen by in a bomb attack in the historic city of Shibam.

Two Germans and a South Korean women were found dead in June after they were seized as part of a group of nine foreigners in the restive northern region of Saada.

The remaining six hostages are still missing, and no group has claimed the kidnapping.