ADEN: Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah returned to the southern port of Aden on Wednesday in a step towards restoring a government on home soil after months of working from exile with Gulf Arab allies to combat Houthi domination of the country.
Government spokesman Rajeh Badi said Bahah, who is also vice president, was accompanied by seven ministers when he arrived in Aden, which loyalist fighters backed by Saudi-led troops recaptured from Houthi forces in July.
“Khaled Bahah and the ministers who arrived with him are in Aden to stay permanently,” Badi said.
Bahah’s return from Saudi Arabia follows that of several other Yemeni ministers who relocated to Aden from the Saudi kingdom in the weeks after the city was retaken in July. Bahah made a brief visit to Aden on August 1.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the Saudi capital Riyadh from Aden in March as Houthi forces closed in. Since its recapture, loyalist forces supported by Saudi-led coalition air strikes have pushed northwards and driven back the Houthis.
Gulf Arab ground forces and loyalists are now waging an offensive westwards through Marib province towards Sanaa in a campaign to eventually oust the Houthis from the capital, which the movement seized in September 2014.
The exiled government pulled out of UN-sponsored peace talks at the weekend but Badi said on Tuesday it was ready to join them if the Houthis publicly accepted a UN resolution calling on them to recognise Hadi as president and withdraw from Yemen’s main cities.
At a news conference at Aden’s al-Qasr hotel on Wednesday, Badi said that “the security file, reconstruction and incorporating the southern resistance into the army” topped the government’s agenda, according to the local Aden al-Ghad news website.
Aden, a city of one million people, had been gripped by chaos and lawlessness since the Houthis retreated. Local officials say some 300 local police officers have returned to work since July and some police stations have resumed operations with the help of advisers from the United Arab Emirates.
But residents complain that local authorities have been slow in seeking to restore basic services and clean up debris and garbage that had accumulated on the streets after heavy fighting.
Residents also say that fighters from out of town, including some affiliated to al Qaeda, had been seen on Aden’s streets, raising fears it is being taken over by militants aligned to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
Last month, the city was rocked by a number of incidents, including an explosion next to the governor’s office. Unidentified vandals had also dug up several graves and smashed headstones at a cemetery that Britain, the city’s former colonial ruler, had maintained after it left some 50 years ago.
In the latest attack, assailants set fire to the Church of Saint Joseph, a local official said. The contents of the church were completely burned.
“The decision of the government to return to Aden has to be taken immediately before the collapse of the security situation and services,” said Lutfi Shatara, a leader of Herak – a local political coalition seeking to restore the former South Yemen, which merged with the northern part of the country in 1990.
The conflict has killed more than 4,500 people over nearly six months.
In Sanaa, residents said coalition air strikes had cut off two bridges, one linking the city to the major Red Sea port of Hodeida and the other to energy-producing Marib. Residents told Reuters that the air strikes, carried out overnight and into Wednesday, meant that “trucks and cars are unable to cross.”
“The strikes caused a big crater in the Sanaa-Hodeida bridge which forced many travellers to turn back, and trucks that are carrying food products and fuel are unable to reach the capital,” one resident said.
Officials in Sanaa, where the Houthis have been in control for over a year, said that coalition air strikes had hit a road linking Sanaa with Marib. They said that a makeshift dust road was being used for passengers and trucks to cross, but it was extremely crowded.