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Rights Groups Warned of the Deaths of Many Civilians in Yemen

Human Rights Watch, which is a leading human rights group, announced that more than a dozen of civilians were killed in the south province of Abyan in Yemen, caught in the fight between alleged al-Qaeda militants and the military.

Since a group called “Ansar al Shariah” invaded Zinjibar several weeks ago and advanced on other nearby towns, the region has been the scene of violent clashes, forcing thousands of families to flee the war zone.

A reported 70,000 have now found shelter in schools and abandoned warehouses in the adjoining Aden province. “Civilians are paying the price,” said Joe Stork, deputy Mideast director at HRW. “Both sides need to be doing much more to protect civilians from harm.”

The Director also urged the Yemeni government to open up investigations into cases of alleged war crimes and abuses against the civilian population. According to residents’ accounts, soldiers would have deliberately opened fire in a crowded market place, hoping to dislodge armed militants who allegedly took cover within the crowd.

HRW cited an unnamed witness as saying the troops shot at people “right in front of them as if they were chickens,” then chased after fleeing residents, “continuing to shoot them as they tried to escape.”

Stork asked Yemen’s government to be more mindful of civilian population in its airstrikes, as reports came of a bus being mistakenly shot down by the Air Force, killing 6 and wounding 12.

According to a statement on Friday by Yemen’s embassy in the United Sates, at least 70 soldiers and 50 militants have been killed in the fighting in Abyan. More than 300 soldiers and dozens of militants have been wounded, the statement said.

Despite all efforts, the Yemeni army seems to be losing more ground to the militants as they continue their advances towards the port-city of Aden.

The rights group said that the militants in Abyan “may have unlawfully placed civilians at risk by deploying in densely populated areas and engaging in looting and other abuses.”

Although the political opposition maintains that the regime is playing up the al-Qaeda threat by allowing the terror group to expand its territories, facts are that Islamists are slowly taking over the oil and gas rich region of Abyan. With Aden being only a few hundred kilometers away, one could easily predict what the militants’ next target will be.

Human Rights Watch also drew attention to the fact that many civilians died as a direct result of the government planned airstrikes on the villages of Arhab and Naham, north of the capital, Sana’a. The attacks, which essentially were aimed at quelling the tribes’ rebellions against the regime, have led to many casualties. Tribal leaders have reported the deaths of at least 20 people since April and 64 casualties.

In Taiz, the second largest Yemeni city, the situation is even more dramatic. On May 29th alone hundreds of civilians lost their lives following the attack on Liberty Square.

Since then, the Republican Guards and the Central Security have relentlessly attacked the town, trying to force back the revolutionaries. This show of force only resulted in drawing out the tribes, which swore to protect the civilians from the regime.

With shelling being reported in civilian areas everyday and street to street fights, the death toll is steadily mounting. Only days ago, a 4 year-old little girl was killed when her house collapsed, hit by a cannon.

HRW finally denounced the government orchestrated power and water cuts in Taiz and across the South, saying that the population had been put under much stress and that elderly and young children were paying the price of such policies.



Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.

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