SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni military court 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 Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
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 Defense Ministry, raising fears of showdown that threatens a fragile transition agreed in February.
The United States and Yemen’s Gulf neighbors fear political 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 seen as important in efforts to contain al Qaeda and Islamist groups that took over towns in the south this year.
Former president Saleh, who was pushed from power in February after more than a year of protests, 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 defense complex in Sanaa on Aug 14, deserting their military posts... refusing orders from the president of the republic, opening fire... resulting in murder and attempted murder,” a statement on the ministry website said.
The men were given jail terms of between three to seven years, while five other Republican Guard members were acquitted, according to the ministry’s statement.
The assault on the complex in August was sparked by President Hadi’s decision to bring two Republican Guard brigades under the control of the southern and central military regions, which are not under Saleh’s control.
Hundreds of guardsmen besieged a Defense Ministry compound in Sanaa but were captured by other military forces and about a hundred were arrested.
Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa; Writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Jason Webb