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Fighting kills 10 militants in Yemen as UN envoy pushes president to transfer power
SANAA, Yemen (AP) ' Yemeni government forces and allied tribesmen killed 10 militants in attacks around the country Sunday, security officials said, as a visiting United Nations envoy met with embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to push for a solution to the country's political crisis.
Security has collapsed across the Arab world's poorest nation during the nine-month popular uprising seeking to oust Saleh, who has been in power for 30 years.
Pro-Saleh forces regularly engage in deadly clashes with armed tribesmen and military defectors who support the protesters in Yemen's largest cities, and al-Qaida-linked militants have taken control of entire towns in the country's restive south.
Two of Sunday's clashes took place near Zinjibar, the largest town overrun by al-Qaida-linked militants in Yemen's southern Abyan province, now partially recaptured by the army. In one clash, tribesmen allied with government forces exchanged fire with militants at a checkpoint, killing three, including two Somali citizens, an official said. In the other, the army shelled a militant position, killing five, including two Saudi citizens.
Months of violence have forced more than 100,000 residents of Zinjibar to flee to neighboring provinces, where some have sought refuge in schools.
In the Arhab region, north of the capital Sanaa, Yemeni forces shelled positions held by armed anti-government tribesmen, killing two, another security official said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Months of international diplomacy has failed to resolve the crisis. Saleh has refused numerous times to follow through on a U.S.-backed proposal crafted by Yemen's powerful Gulf Arab neighbors, under which he would transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
In Sanaa, U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar met Saleh Sunday to push for a transfer of power.
The U.N. said Benomar's weeklong visit to Yemen was intended to encourage the Gulf-backed proposal, which the Security Council has endorsed.
A spokesman for the Yemen Observatory for Human Rights, Al-Galil Waddah, told The Associated Press that about 400 people have been killed in protests that began in February. He estimated that the number of fighters and civilians killed in clashes in the south and Arhab region could be much higher.
Saleh's critics accuse him of allowing the militants to take over cities in the south to support his argument that without him, al-Qaida would take control of the country.
"Saleh has used war and chaos to suppress the protests. He is trying to say that his presence is the only way for Yemen's stability and so he allowed al-Qaida and fighters to run free in southern Yemen," Waddah said.
He said the group's office in Sanaa was taken over by security forces in mid-September and continues to be used as a rest house by soldiers, who also confiscated the group's computers and files.
In those files, he said, the group documented dozens of cases of political prisoners alleging abuse at the hands of security forces in Sanaa and the country's second largest city, Taiz.
Some of the prisoners are missing, while others who were released said they were beaten and threatened with rape. The abuse, according to Waddah, took place in government facilities as well as abandoned residential buildings.
Taiz, a hotbed of the opposition to Saleh, has been particularly violent recently, with government troops regularly clashing with soldiers who have defected to side with the protesters.