Residents of three formerly rebel-held districts in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province say life is slowly returning to normal after pro-government forces ended months of occupation by the Iran-backed Houthis.
In Bayhan, the last of north-western Shabwa districts to be liberated from the insurgents, markets are once more bustling, state institutions are again functioning, public schools have reopened and people are returning to work and to mosques.
Al Amalika Southern Forces recaptured the area last week as part of a large military operation that began early this month.
“Our city just breathed a sigh of relief after the gloomy times under Houthi occupation," said Rasheed Thabet, who lives in the city.
“People sent their children back to schools after months of suspension because, when the rebels invaded the city, they rushed to impose their sectarian ideology in the public schools and in the mosques. They sent their men to the schools to distribute religious handouts and brainwash the pupils,” he told The National.
“People were upset that their children would be brainwashed, so the majority stopped them from going to school. Now, everybody has returned to school after the Houthi rebels were cleared from the city.”
Shops in the main market have reopened after being closed for months because they refused to pay levies imposed on them by the rebels.
“I can’t tell you how delighted I feel,” said Ahmed Saleh, who owns a small shop in the area.
“I am back to work after months of closure due to the Houthi oppression. We had to shut our shops because they used to steal from us in order to feed their fighters,“ he said
Farmers in Wadi Al Khair, between Bayhan and Usaylan – the first district to be liberated, are returning to their farms cautiously because they fear landmines laid by the rebels.
“This is the first time I went to see my farm after two months. I really need deminers to clear it because the Houthi rebels were deployed across this area,” said Fadel Mohammed, a farmer from Usaylan.
“The rebels planted thousands of mines on the dirt roads, in some state institutions they occupied and in the farms, which are the main source for income for many families,“ he said.
In Usaylan, crowds gathered at Al Sunnah mosque, the city’s largest, for the first Friday prayers since the rebels were expelled.
Thaer Al Makraei, one of Uslayan’s 22,000 residents, said people were delighted they no longer had to listen to sermons by Houthi-appointed clerics.
“People were extremely happy; hundreds attended the Al Jumma prayer in Al Sunnah mosque for the first time since September,” Mr Al Makraei told The National.
“Everybody seemed to be happy practising in their own way and saying their prayers with freedom.”
Shabwa governor Awadh Al Awlaki was appointed after the rebels were driven out of the province.
He ordered security agencies to free all prisoners detained by the former governor’s militia on baseless charges or for their political views, and to refer those facing criminal cases to the prosecution.
“Releasing those who were abducted based on politicised charges is a crucial step, but we still need to see the militia, which is loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood and the former governor, dismantled,“ said Ahmed Al Hakel, a rights activist in Shabwa’s main city, Attaq.
Emirates Red Crescent has distributed 105 tonnes of aid to 15,000 families affected by the fighting in Usaylan and Bayhan.