SANAA (Reuters) - Shi’ite Muslim tribesmen handed back an army camp to the Yemeni government on Saturday, a spokesman for the group said, to try to defuse tensions caused by the capture of a provincial capital north of Sanaa this week.
The fall of Omran, some 50 kms (31 miles) north from the Yemeni capital, has drawn condemnation from the U.N. Security Council and a threat of military action by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had ordered the army to raise its preparedness level to “carry out any tasks that may be assigned to it”.
The spokesman, Mohammed Andul-Salam, said in a statement on the Houthi website that an army force despatched from Sanaa “had arrived to take charge of the 310 division headquarters and oversee the security presence in Omran province”.
Hussein al-Azzi, a politburo member of Ansarullah (Supporter of God), as the Houthi group is officially known, said all measures had been taken to facilitate the handover of the camp to the army, which he said had come as a result of “understandings reached with official authorities”.
“And we are always ready for further understandings about the normalization of the situation in the province,” he added in comments posted on his Facebook page.
The fighting has killed at least 200 people, displaced more than 35,000 and sparked widespread fears of further turmoil in the U.S.-allied country of 25 million. Yemen has been trying recover from political crisis that started with mass protests in 2011 that forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
The Houthi victories in Amran have added to instability in the country which is also struggling with a secessionist movement in its south and a threat by militants from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The defense ministry’s 26 September news website reported that Hadi has replaced the commander of the 1st Military District, which is responsible for the provinces of Omran, al-Jouf and Saadah, apparently following the setback in the fight against the Houthis.
Hadi also replaced the military commander of the south-eastern Hadramout region, where AQAP had been active with a series of raids on military and government facilities in recent weeks, the website reported.
The Houthis captured Omran on Tuesday after days of fighting against government soldiers and allied Sunni tribal fighters in clashes that had threatened to turn into a sectarian conflict.
The fall of Omran came less than a week after a ceasefire reached on June 23 collapsed with both sides blaming each other.
The Houthis, named after the tribe of their leader, said their fight was against rivals loyal to the Islamist Islah party, and they had no intention of attacking the capital Sanaa, just south of Omran.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi, editing by David Evans