Residents of Yemen’s restive south who fled nearly eight months of fighting between the army and Islamists began returning home on Saturday, escorted by Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
“We were finally allowed into the city after three previously failed attempts,” said Nayef Jabari, a resident of Zinjibar, capital of the southern Abyan province.
Gunmen from the Al-Qaeda-linked Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law) group, which controls large parts of Zinjibar, “accompanied us as we entered the city,” said Jabari.
He said the city was “almost destroyed” due to months of fierce fighting but added that the extremists have promised to provide residents with water and electricity.
Qais Mohammamed, another resident, said the extremists “welcomed us.”
But, according to one military official who has fought against the Islamist group, people need “to drive out the Partisans of Sharia from their city if they want to live in peace.”
Islamist militants overran much of Zinjibar last May and have retained their positions in the city and nearby towns despite repeated efforts by the army to dislodge them that have left hundreds dead.
The latest fighting, which took place on Friday, left three militants dead, among them an Algerian, a local official in the adjacent town of Jaar told AFP.
Separately, Friday gunfights between police and southern separatists in Aden, the capital of the formerly independent South Yemen, killed six and wounded 30, medics said.