FM accuses opposition of seeking ‘civil war’, says anti-Saleh protests since January have cost Yemen $2 billion in damages.
SANAA - Tribesmen fighting Yemeni troops loyal to under-fire President Ali Abdullah Saleh shot down Wednesday an army warplane north of Sanaa, witnesses and tribal sources said.
The jetfighter was downed by anti-aircraft guns near Arhab, 40 kilometres (26 miles) north of the capital, where armed tribesmen have been locked in combat with the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed.
"We saw the downed plane in flames on the ground," a witness said.
The plane crashed in the village of Beit Azar, and the pilot who had ejected was captured by tribesmen, witnesses and tribal sources said.
Heavy air strikes have targeted the tribal area of Arhab after a general and six other soldiers were killed Sunday in clashes between tribesmen and the Republican Guard.
General Abdullah al-Kulaibi, head of the 63rd brigade of the elite Republican Guard unit, was killed in the attack by tribesman opposed to Saleh's rule in the strategic town of Nihm, the defence ministry said.
Four of the attackers were killed during the attack on the military base, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the Yemeni capital, it said.
Meanwhile, three more gunmen were killed in overnight clashes with the guard, tribal sources said.
Nihm is one of several villages and towns that collectively make up the strategic northern gateway into Sanaa and is site of at least five Republican Guard bases.
The elite unit has so far prevented dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who now controls part of the capital, from calling in reinforcements from Yemen's northern provinces where parts of his division are deployed.
The tribesmen who carried out the assault on the military base late Sunday are allied with General Ahmar and have been battling government troops for control of the area.
Saleh, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, returned to the country last week, sparking violence in which scores have died.
Opposition accused of seeking ‘civil war’
Yemen's foreign minister accused the opposition on Tuesday of fomenting the strife that has left thousands dead by not accepting the election of Saleh.
Abubakr al-Qirbi told the United Nations that protests against Saleh since January had cost the country $2 billion in damage to roads, oil pipelines, power lines and other infrastructure.
Saleh, who is under international pressure to relinquish power and allow new elections, returned to the country last week, sparking violence in which scores more have died.
Qirbi told the UN General Assembly the anti-Saleh protests threatened to unleash "civil war and devastating conflict."
The minister insisted that the Saleh government had defended democracy and was "protecting human rights".
He said opposition groups had been unable to accept Saleh's 2006 election and had carried out "subversive actions to seize power." The groups had "manipulated" youth protests about the lack of jobs.
Qirbi said Saleh was committed to a GCC initiative under which he should hand over power to a transitional government. The minister said Yemen would be a "model for change."
His comments were dismissed by rights groups.
"If they are serious about upholding human rights, the Yemeni authorities should stop security forces from shooting peaceful protesters, allow an international inquiry into the bloodshed, and let the United Nations establish a human rights monitoring office," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.