- Ali Abdullah Saleh - suicide bombing - unrest - Yemen
Defecting Yemeni troops switch uniforms and sides
At a rally in Tahrir Square in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa earlier this week, more Yemeni soldiers swelled the ranks of military defectors, vowing to bring down Yemen's longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Akram al Yousfi was a soldier in Yemen’s Republican Guard posted in the Nahm region northeast of the capital of Sanaa when he decided to defect to the opposition side.
“I was fighting and killing people, and I said to myself, why? I decided to join the revolution,” al Yousfi told FRANCE 24 reporters on the ground in Sanaa. “I want to defend my people, I don't want to kill them.”
Al Yousfi - along with around 250 other defected Yemeni troops – gathered earlier this week in Sanaa’s Tahrir Square, which has turned into a symbol of the uprising to oust longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Support for Saleh in the country’s military ranks has been dwindling over the course of the months-long uprising, with the defection in March of a top general and former close Saleh ally, Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar.
Long considered the second-most important man in the impoverished Arab nation, Gen. al-Ahmar’s defection to the opposition tore apart the government in this troubled Mideast country that has been behest by inter-tribal rivalries and an al Qaeda-linked Islamist militancy.
Leaving the barracks behind
At the anti-Saleh rally in Sanaa’s Tahrir Square, defecting troops had arrived from across the country, according to Gen. al-Ahmar’s advisors.
“We left our old army uniform in the barracks and we have joined this peaceful revolution,” Abdessalam el Husseini, a former sergeant in the Yemeni Special Forces, told FRANCE24 reporters. “Here, we are given another uniform.”
Sheikh Abdel Salah Joureyd used to be a member of the Yemeni Special Forces before he defected in April and helped organise the Tahrir Square event.
“We supervised this operation, we sent envoys to convince the soldiers they had to come and be on our side. These soldiers have come to support the people's peaceful revolution,” said Joureyd.
Protest organisers displayed a handful of military ID cards of soldiers who they claim have defected from the Yemeni military. They include soldiers from Republican Guard and the Special Forces.
Once they are registered with the opposition, the new dissidents are teamed up with the older ones to join the campaign to topple Saleh.
On Wednesday, a shaky calm returned to Sanaa following days of violent demonstrations following Saleh’s surprise return from Saudi Arabia on Friday. He had been in Riyadh for three months receiving treatment after a June bomb attack.
Demonstrators filing through Tahrir Square on Tuesday flashed peace signs at troops loyal to Gen. al-Ahmar manning rocket launchers and machine guns. "Peacefully, peacefully, we don't want a civil war," said the protesters as they marched past the dissident soldiers.
Experts have warned that the impoverished Middle East nation could slide into civil war and there are real concerns that al Qaeda-linked militants could take advantage of a security vacuum to increase their operations.