Yemeni soldiers defecting, says official

Military denies claims that defecting soldiers are being arrested to join the anti-regime movement.

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Yemen's ruling family is arresting soldiers who defect from the government forces in an attempt to stop them from joining the anti-regime protest movement, said a senior security official.

The official with the Republican Guards, run by president Ali Abdullah Saleh's eldest son, Ahmed, said that more than 130 soldiers have been arrested and jailed since the beginning of June on claims that they supported the revolution and were linked to the defected military leader, Maj Gen Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar.

The official did not want to be identified, because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

During the past two months, more than 2,000 soldiers from the Republican Guards and central security forces have defected from the government to join the protest movement, according to movement's youth organising committee.

The defections continued after president Saleh left for Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment for injuries he received during the attack on the presidential palace on June 3.

Yesterday, the defence ministry announced that the military forces are loyal to the government and rejected claims that soldiers have been arrested.

"The republican guards are the power that support president Saleh and will continue doing so with no defections under the leadership of General Ahmed," Abdu Ganadi, the government spokesperson said.

A security aide with Gen Ahmed Saleh admits that hundreds of soldiers have defected over the past weeks, but insisted that the general remains the most powerful military leader in Yemen.

"I am not admitting that we arrested soldiers who wanted to defect, but all must understand that any soldier wishing to go against the orders of his seniors will be held accountable by law," said the aide, who declined to provide his name.

Mahmood Junaid, a presidential aide, said he expects the ruling family will lose more soldiers every day.

"Soldiers are living the same life as everyone else. They, too, don't have electricity and petrol and will soon not receive their salaries. Soldiers will soon be asked to use force against the people and when this happens the ruling family with quickly lose ground militarily," he predicted.

A group of more than 80 soldiers with the central security forces, which is controlled by president Saleh's nephew, Yahya, reportedly joined the protest movement this week.

"The ruling family insists that they are the country and the saviours of it, while we see that the country is the 25 million Yemenis," said Mohammed Saleh, a former central security officer who now helps convince other soldiers to put down their arms.

Mohammed Abdul Malik served with the government military for more than 20 years.

"In May, we were ordered to stop a youth protest from expanding, even by the use of force, ," said Mr Malik. "While they were marching, one of them handed me a flower while I was pointing my machine gun in their direction.

"That was enough for me to quit the republican guards and join the revolution."

Ali Jaradi, editor of Ahale newspaper, last week interviewed more than a dozen soldiers who had defected. Most said they quit to join the anti-regime movement and avoid going against the will of the people.

Mr Jaradi said that some of the Republican Guards continue to support the ruling family in fear of imprisonment or that their families will be harmed.

"They are still with the ruling family because they are scared," he said.

Maj Gen Al Ahmar's defection in March has had a strong influence on government soldiers and was a main reason for many soldiers to quit, said Mr. Jaradi.

More than 12,000 soldiers followed his example, according to a senior official in the general's army. That number does not include the 30,000 anti-regime soldiers that are under the general's control.

Opposition forces led by Maj Gen Al Ahmar are said to be attempting to weaken the ruling family's forces outside Sana'a.

Most of the clashes have been in Arhab and Nihm districts, both less than 40km outside the city, and considered the backbone of the ruling family's support.

Tribes loyal to the anti-regime movement have also succeeded in ousting republican guard forces from Taiz city.