SANAA (Reuters) - A dissident army general said on Sunday he backed a peace accord signed last month, lending support to efforts to pull Yemen from the brink of civil war, as officials said ten Islamist militants died in attacks by government forces in the south.
General Ali Mohsen’s announcement came one day after both his forces, and troops loyal to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, began withdrawing from the capital Sanaa as part of the Gulf-brokered peace deal.
“We are ready to support the Gulf initiative, which was bolstered by Security Council resolution 2014,” Mohsen told reporters at a news conference in Sanaa, referring to the resolution adopted by the U.N. body in October endorsing the Gulf peace proposal.
He was speaking before a meeting with representatives of the European Union, the Gulf Cooperative Council and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, as part of efforts to win support from factions excluded from the peace accord signed in Saudi Arabia last month.
The diplomats had earlier met separatist leaders in Aden and U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar visited Shi‘ite rebels in Saada province in northern Yemen.
Last month, Saleh signed the accord to transfer his powers to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, ushering in an opposition-led Yemeni government to lead the country to early presidential elections in February 2012.
If the deal goes according to plan, Saleh will become the fourth Arab ruler brought down by mass demonstrations that have reshaped the political landscape of the Middle East.
Mohsen’s troops had been among the opposition forces controlling the Yemeni capital’s northern half, where they had battled the pro-Saleh army for control over Sanaa.
Under supervision of a military committee set up by the Gulf peace deal, Mohsen’s troops had pulled back on Saturday.
The new government faces challenges from a southern separatist movement that wants to revive the Yemeni socialist state that existed before Saleh united it with the capitalist north under his rule in 1990.
Months of protests against Saleh’s rule have alarmed Saudi Arabia and the United States, which had seen Saleh as a bulwark against al Qaeda in the region.
Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia shares U.S. fears that more instability in Yemen could embolden the country’s al Qaeda wing -- against which Washington has waged a campaign of drone strikes -- in a country sitting next to oil shipping routes.
In the country’s south, ten fighters from the Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist militant group linked to al Qaeda, were killed when government forces shelled their positions in Zinjibar, capital of the southern province of Abyan, a local official said. Fighters also clashed with the army, he said.
The clashes followed fighting on Saturday in which two government soldiers were killed and six were wounded.
Residents in the town of Jaar, located some 15 km (10 miles)north of Zinjibar and which is under the control of the Islamist militants, said they saw fighters bury fallen comrades.
“In the last three days, we saw the militants bury the bodies of several dead fighters,” said Abdul Khaleq, a local resident. “They were weeping bitterly for their dead as they read (verses from) the Koran.”
Reporting By Abdelrahman al-Ansi in Sanna and Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden; Writing By Nour Merza; Editing by Sophie Hares