Yemeni court jails 93 republican guards

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A YEMENI military court has sentenced 93 members of the Republican Guard to prison terms of up to seven years for an attack on a military complex in August, the Defence Ministry said yesterday.

The sentences, which were more lenient than expected, followed increased tensions between factions loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose son commands the Republican Guard, and the interim government led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

On Tuesday, Brigadier General Ahmed Saleh refused orders to hand over long-range missiles to the defence ministry, raising fears of a showdown that threatens a fragile transition agreed in February.

Yemen’s Gulf neighbours fear instability in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state will allow a branch of al-Qaeda based there to strike at top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and Red Sea shipping lanes.

The Republican Guard, the best-equipped of Yemen’s military units, is key to containing al-Qaeda and Islamist groups that have taken over towns in the south this year.

Former president Saleh, who was pushed from power in February, was granted immunity from prosecution and is seen by some Yemeni politicians as attempting to retain influence.

Judge Abdulmalik Ali Rashid al-Arshi convicted the men of offences including “assaulting a defence complex in Sanaa on 14 August, deserting military posts... refusing orders from the president of the republic, opening fire... resulting in murder and attempted murder,” a statement said.

The men were given jail terms of between three to seven years, while five other Republican Guards were acquitted, according to the ministry.

The assault on the complex was sparked by President Hadi’s decision to bring two brigades under the control of the southern and central military regions, which are not under Saleh’s control.