Yemen leader says would talk to disarmed al-Qaida

Yemen president says he would talk with al-Qaida if it gives up its weapons and extremism

Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) -- Yemen's president said Tuesday he would talk to his country's branch of the al-Qaida militant network if it were to give up its weapons, abandon its extremist ideas and stop sheltering foreign fighters.

The televised statement by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi appeared aimed at showing his readiness to use any means to reduce the political violence in his country, home to the most world's most active branch of the terror network. Al-Qaida however has shown little indication that it would want to pursue a dialogue, especially under Hadi's conditions.

The militants had taken advantage of Yemen's popular uprising last year to seize much of the country's south. This summer, backed by U.S. advisers and drones, Hadi's military launched an offensive to reclaim this territory, going after al-Qaida's strongholds and hideouts. The groups' No.2 was killed earlier this month in an airstrike.

The militants in turn have struck back, targeted security officials for assassinations and staging deadly bombings.

Hadi's remarks were in line with the image he tries to project, of a leader serious about bringing stability to his country either by force or by negotiation.

He said he was pressured by unidentified local "mediators" to accept the idea of dialogue with the militants. The group has often found shelter among tribal leaders.

"I say, despite the heavy blood that was shed and the homes which were destroyed, and people who lost their homes, a dialogue can be started on condition that the al-Qaida agrees publicly to hand over its weapons, declares its repentance from its extremist ideas that have nothing to do with Islam and gives up sheltering armed groups from outside Yemen," he said. "Then this would be opening the door for dialogue."

He added, however, that "mediators go and never come back," indicating skepticism that al-Qaida would ever take up the offer.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has planned attacks against targets in both Yemen and the United States., including the failed attempt by an al-Qaida operative to detonate a bomb in his underwear aboard a flight bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.

In May, nearly 100 Yemeni soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a parade rehearsal. Al-Qaida said at the time it was targeting the defense minister, who was the target of at least six assassination attempts. At least 13 people were killed in the latest attempt against the minister two weeks ago in Sanaa.

Hadi's predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh was long accused by critics of not fighting al-Qaida wholeheartedly. Saleh stepped down in February in a power transfer deal backed by the U.S., but Hadi and his supporters complain the former leader undermines security using relatives and loyalists still in key positions.

On Tuesday, Hadi vowed to continue to free the country from "burden of the past," an apparent reference to his predecessor's alleged meddling. "All I promise is that I will not be silent or objective before whatever curtails the path to change," he said.

The impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation's economy has been hard hit by the upheaval.

On Tuesday, an explosion struck a gas pipeline in southern Yemen, temporarily halting the flow of gas although exports were not affected, a government official said. The pipeline has repeatedly been targeted by groups suspected to be affiliated with al-Qaida.

An oil ministry official said repair work has begun in the Liquefied Natural Gas Co. pipeline. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The bombing in Shabwa province comes on the heels of a Monday attack against an oil pipeline nearby.

A statement by the gas company said nobody was hurt in Tuesday's explosion. Yemen LNG Co. was created in 1995 — the country's first natural gas liquefaction consortium. Its major shareholders include French oil company Total SA and Dallas-based Hunt Oil Co. It also is backed with Asian, U.S. and Yemeni government funding.

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