Loyalist fighters retake last rebel-held military base in Yemen’s south

The capture of Labouza is the latest victory for the pro-government forces who have been pushing north in the province of Lahj, after routing the Houthi rebels from the coastal city of Aden.

A tank belonging to pro-government Yemeni fighters drives near to the Al Anad airbase in the southern province of Lahj on August 3, 2014, the same day that loyalist forces seized the abse from Houthi rebels. Wael Qubady/AP Photo
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SANAA // Loyalist forces in Yemen on Friday retook the last military base in the country’s south that was held by Houthi rebels.

The officials said the capture of Labouza base is the latest victory for the pro-government forces that have been pushing north in the province of Lahj, after routing the rebels from the coastal city of Aden.

Labouza lies north of the strategic Al Anad base, which fell to Yemeni troops on Monday. The officials gave no casualty figures for the latest fighting.

The gains by the pro-government forces have been made possible with the help of a Saudi Arabia-led coalition that has been targeting the Iran-backed Houthis and their allies since March in an airstrikes campaign.

Meanwhile, a Frenchwoman who was abducted in Yemen in February along with her translator arrived home on Friday thanks to mediation by Oman.

Isabelle Prime, 31, had worked in Yemen for the World Bank for a year when she was kidnapped.

After being released late on Thursday, she travelled to Oman before landing at the Villacoublay air base near to Paris, where she was welcomed by her family.

French president Francois Hollande, who was also at the air base to welcome Ms Prime, thanked Oman for its help.

Muscat played a role in negotiating her release in coordination with “some Yemeni parties” after a request for help from the French government.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said no ransom was paid for Ms Prime’s release.

“France does not pay, but we are at the same time very attentive to the human reality. What counts at the end of the chain is that we end up recovering our own,” he told BFM television. “You can imagine these are complicated negotiations.”

Oman borders Yemen and stands apart from its Gulf Arab neighbours in maintaining cordial relations with Iran, which backs Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Arabian Peninsula nation has played a role in helping with the release of other captives, including American freelance journalist Casey Coombs, who was released by Shiite Houthi rebels earlier this year.

Oman was also an intermediary in the release of three American hikers detained by Iran along the Iraqi border in 2009.

Ms Prime was abducted in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, along with her Yemeni translator, who was released shortly afterward.

Earlier this year, a video was released showing Ms Prime pleading for help. In it, she appeared frail and anguished, and she urged the leaders of France and Yemen to allow her to return home.

Meanwhile, Turkey has frozen the assets of officials from Yemen’s former regime, including ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, along with Houthi rebel leaders, the official Anatolia news agency reported on Friday.

The move by Ankara followed UN Security Council sanctions on the same five men for threatening peace in the country.

The decision, which was published in the Official Gazette having been endorsed by the cabinet, blacklists Mr Saleh, his son Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Houthi leaders Abdulmalik Al Houthi, Abdullah Yahya Al Hakim and Abd Al Khaliq Al Houthi, the agency said.

The sanctions freeze any assets, bank accounts and safe deposit boxes the five might have in Turkey and will be in place until February 26, 2016, Anatolia said.

Mr Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years before being forced from power in 2012 after a bloody year-long uprising, threw the support of his loyalists in the army behind the Houthi.

He was accused of aiding the Houthi to undermine the government of internationally recognised president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi in February.

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which includes the UAE, began a campaign of air strikes against the Houthis and their allies in March after the insurgents seized Sanaa and then advanced south, forcing the government to flee to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. A Saudi Arabian soldier was killed yesterday in the Najran region following shelling from Yemen, according to the official news agency. He was the third Saudi Arabian soldier to be killed this week.

The coalition aims to restore Mr Hadi to power.

* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse