Yemen general may head new unit after army overhaul

SANAA Sun Dec 23, 2012 10:17am EST

Brigadier General Ahmed Saleh, the son of Yemen's ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, gestures from the presidential palace in Sanaa in this February 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Brigadier General Ahmed Saleh, the son of Yemen's ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, gestures from the presidential palace in Sanaa in this February 19, 2011 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

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SANAA (Reuters) - A powerful army general who lost a command in a military reshuffle seen as vital to stabilizing Yemen may be given another senior post in the impoverished country's armed forces, sources at the presidency said on Sunday.

Brigadier General Ahmed Saleh, whose Republican Guard was abolished in the shake-up ordered on Wednesday by his political rival, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is expected to be named as the commander of a military region, the sources said.

Hadi has vowed to unify the army, which is divided between allies and foes of Hadi's predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose legacy still looms large in Yemen and who is General Ahmed Saleh's father.

Hadi's decrees, restructuring the military into four main units and disbanding the Republican Guard, are widely seen as an attempt to reduce Saleh family influence in the military.

Ahmed Saleh has voiced no public objection to the reshuffle, easing fears of more turmoil in a country in the throes of a tense political transition.

Hadi's decrees on Wednesday also abolished the First Armoured Division, led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a dissident military officer who broke away from Saleh's forces after the protests began last year. Ahmar welcomed the overhaul.

A source at the presidential palace told Reuters on condition of anonymity that both Ahmed Saleh and General Ahmar would be given some senior positions in the new set-up.

"It is expected that President Hadi will issue a decree to appoint Brigadier General Ahmed Saleh and General Ali al-Ahmar as commanders for two military regions," the source said.

SALEH LEGACY LOOMS LARGE

The source said the implementation of Wednesday's decrees could take up to six months, during which time both Ahmed Saleh and Ahmar would remain in control of some military brigades. The source did not elaborate.

Another presidential source confirmed the anticipated move and added: "There are no objections to the president's orders to restructure the army."

Officials at General Saleh's office were not available for comment.

After a year of protests against his rule, then president Saleh made way for Hadi in February under a Gulf-brokered transition plan backed by Washington and its Western allies.

But the former president's continuing clout in the army and wider society worries its neighbours and Western nations who fear further conflict could plunge Yemen back into chaos.

On Thursday, Ahmed Saleh agreed to give up his missiles in apparent compliance with the army shake-up.

The military overhaul, part of an internationally backed plan to restore stability to Yemen, is widely seen as part of efforts to loosen the Saleh family's grip on the armed forces.

Restoring security in Yemen is a priority for the United States and its Gulf allies because the country is the theatre of multiple conflicts, posing a potential threat to oil export giant Saudi Arabia next door and nearby shipping lanes.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Rania El Gamal, Editing by Stephen Powell)

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