Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi called Tuesday for troubled UN-brokered reconciliation talks to be moved to neighbouring Saudi Arabia if agreement cannot be reached on a venue inside Yemen.
The call came as at least 32 people were killed in clashes between Shiite Huthi gunmen and Sunni tribesmen backed by Al-Qaeda militants in central Yemen, tribal source said.
Meanwhile, the Al-Qaeda branch, which has sought to exploit the power vacuum, claimed on Twitter that it carried out a suicide car bombing of a Huthi gathering in Baida Tuesday “killing and wounding dozens.”
But medics reported that only 10 Huthis were killed and five wounded, which witnesses confirmed.
The reconciliation talks, which had been held in the Shiite militia-held capital, have broken down since Hadi escaped to second city Aden last month after weeks under house arrest.
Several Gulf Cooperation Council states, led by Saudi Arabia, have moved their embassies to Aden after an exodus of foreign diplomats from Sanaa last month over security concerns.
But the United States, the first to close its mission in Sanaa, announced Tuesday that is not planning to follow its Gulf partners and move its embassy to Aden.
The Western-backed president had proposed that the talks resume in Aden or in third city Taez, which is also outside the control of the Huthis.
“As Aden and Taez are not accepted by some, I call for shifting the talks to the headquarters of the GCC in Riyadh,” Hadi told tribal chiefs.
He also called for the six-member GCC, which group’s impoverished Yemen’s oil-rich neighbours, to sponsor the talks, an aide said.
– ‘Legitimate’ leader –
The Huthis, who control much of northern Yemen and have set up their own government institutions in the capital, have opposed any change of venue for the UN-brokered talks.
The General People’s Congress party of ousted strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is widely accused of backing the militia, has said it will boycott any talks held outside Sanaa.
And it is by no means clear that Riyadh will be any more acceptable as a venue to the Huthis or their supporters.
The GCC has thrown its support behind Hadi. The Sunni-ruled Gulf states are deeply suspicious of the Huthis, fearing they will take Yemen into the orbit of Shiite Iran.
And Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi has invited Hadi to attend the annual Arab summit in Cairo on March 28-29, presidency sources said.
The Huthis named a “presidential council” after Hadi and Prime Minister Khalid Bahah tendered their resignations in January in protest at what critics branded an attempted coup.
Hadi retracted his resignation shortly after resurfacing in Aden, while Bahah remains under house arrest in the capital.
US Ambassador Matthew Tueller threw his support behind Hadi after talks in Aden Monday, saying he remains the “legitimate” leader.
On Tuesday, Britain’s envoy also met Hadi and made similar remarks.
The Shiite militia has clashed repeatedly with Sunni tribes as they have advanced into confessionally mixed or mainly Sunni areas of central Yemen since overrunning the capital last September.
At least 25 Huthis and seven Sunni tribesmen were killed in fighting in Baida province Tuesday, tribal sources said. AFP could not confirm the tolls from independent sources and the Huthis rarely acknowledge their casualties.
Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, seen by the United States as the network’s deadliest, kept up its attacks on the army in the troubled southeast.
A bomb killed three soldiers near the jihadist stronghold of Qatan in the Hadramawt valley in the province’s rugged interior, a military official said.