Yemen govt forces seize Qaeda-held military camp

Backed by an Arab coalition, forces seized an al-Qaeda training camp, along with weapons

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Yemeni government forces backed by an Arab coalition seized an al-Qaeda training camp in the southeastern province of Hadramawt Saturday along with “large amounts” of weapons, its governor told AFP.

It comes during an offensive launched last month to recapture areas in the south overrun by al-Qaeda and which on Sunday saw loyalist forces recapture Hadramawt provincial capital Mukalla, which the militants had occupied for a year.

“The offensive is continuing in Qoton to hunt down al-Qaeda militants,” said Hadramawt governor Major General Ahmed bin Braik, referring to a town north of Mukalla.

Braik said government forces overran an al-Qaeda training camp in the town where they “confiscated large amounts of weapons” and “arrested eight al-Qaeda militants”.

“Mukalla is now a safe city,” Braik added.

The capture of the military camp comes as Yemen’s warring parties began face-to-face peace talks on Saturday on “key issues” in a bid to end the conflict in the impoverished Arab country.

An AFP reporter there said the situation had returned to normal as pro-government forces deployed across Mukalla with troops from the Arab coalition securing the ports.

Government troops that seized the city were backed by special forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as by coalition air strikes, the alliance said in a statement.

At least 27 Yemeni soldiers died in the fight to retake Mukalla, military officials and medics said.

And while the coalition has said that more than 800 militants were killed, al-Qaeda issued a statement on Monday denying the claim as “lies” and saying its dead “do not exceed the number of fingers on both hands”.

The statement addressing Hadramawt residents and signed by Ansar al-Sharia, another name for Al-Qaeda in Yemen, said that the militants withdrew only to spare Mukalla the destruction of fighting.

“We will fight the battle by our own rules and ways and not by those of the enemy,” said the statement, adding that the UAE had played the biggest role in the fight for Mukalla.

An officer there had told AFP that residents of Mukalla, home to an estimated 200,000 people, had appealed to the militants to spare it and pull out.

The Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is regarded by Washington as the network’s most dangerous branch, and AQAP militants have come under repeated US air and drone strikes.