Yemen VP calls for renegade army units to drop support for Houthis

Khaled Bahah also said he hoped a ground invasion by Saudi-led foreign troops would not happen, to avoid a higher casualty toll.

Yemen's newly appointed vice president, Khaled Bahah, holds a press conference on April 16, 2015 in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Ahmed Farwan/AFP Photo
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RIYADH // Yemen’s newly appointed vice president Khaled Bahah appealed on Thursday for renegade army units to drop their support for Shiite rebels fighting his exiled government.

In his first press conference since taking the job, Mr Bahah also said he hoped a ground invasion by Saudi-led foreign troops would not happen, to avoid a higher casualty toll.

A Riyadh-led coalition launched an air war last month against the Houthi rebels who are in control of the Yemeni capital and locked in battle with forces loyal to the country’s president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, in the main southern city of Aden.

But Arab military exercises planned to take place in Saudi Arabia have raised speculation that Riyadh is considering ground operations in Yemen, after three weeks of air strikes have failed to halt the Houthis’ advance.

However, Mr Bahah said that “Yemenis themselves” should be able to handle ground combat in conjunction with coalition air strikes.

President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi named Mr Bahah as his deputy on Sunday in an attempt to widen support for his government, now exiled to Saudi Arabia since the Houthis launched a lightning advance on Yemen’s south. The new vice president is one of the few figures in Yemen whose popularity crosses regional and sectarian lines.

Speaking to reporters at a luxury hotel in Riyadh, Mr Bahah blamed Yemen’s turmoil on the country’s political parties, along with six decades of tribal and personal loyalties at the expense of the nation.

“We are paying the price of this kind of loyalty,” he said, calling on Yemenis – especially the military – to put their country first.

Troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have allied with the Houthi rebels in fighting pro-Hadi forces.

“I call on all troops and security forces personnel to accept the command of the legitimate government and protect the country,” said Mr Bahah.

He said the poverty that ravages Yemen is another factor behind the violence.

Mr Bahah also steered away from blaming Iran, which is accused of supporting the Houthis, but said the Shiite nation should make a “positive contribution”.

The vice president, who also serves as prime minister, appealed for emergency aid to avoid “catastrophe” in the face of food, medicine, electricity and other shortages.

The conflict’s death toll had reached at least 736 people on April 12, the World Health Organization said.

Speaking of his appointment, Mr Bahah said the restoration of the vice presidency aims to “improve the efficiency, the capacity, of the presidency. President Hadi passed through a very difficult time”.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters