Post al-Qaeda, progress resumes in Yemen's Shabwa

By Abu Bakr al-Yamani in Sanaa


Fighters loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi sit in a pickup truck on December 21, 2015, in the Shabwa provincial capital of Ataq. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

Development projects that came to a standstill in Yemen's Shabwa province are gradually being reactivated following the removal of al-Qaeda militants from the area, local officials tell Al-Mashareq.

In early December, Yemeni forces drove al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from the port of Bilhaf.

Military forces, including Hadramaut elite forces from the neighbouring province, were then deployed around the Shabwa province port to defend the facility.

Shabwa province "has been freed from the grip of the terrorist group, al-Qaeda", Shabwa's deputy governor Nasser al-Qamishi told Al-Mashareq.

"The port of Balhaf was the last area under the control of al-Qaeda after it had retreated from Azzan in the Mayfaa directorate in August, due to the gains made by the army against the group in al-Mukalla and Abyan ," he said.

Since then, he said, Shabwa's leadership has been working to gradually restore security, and has now secured the province's coastal districts, including Balhaf.

The coastline that links Hadramaut with Shabwa and Abyan provinces also has been secured, all the way to Aden, he said.

Al-Qaeda had a negative impact on the areas it controlled, al-Qamishi said, noting that several development projects faltered in the Mayfaa directorate when the group was in control of the Azzan area.

This "doubled the suffering of people due to shortages in services as well as oppression and limitation of public and private freedoms", he said.

Local authority resumes duties

"We have a security plan to fill the vacuum in the areas that were liberated from al-Qaeda and to allow the local authority to resume its duties," al-Qamishi said, noting that the security situation in Balhaf has been stabilised.

The directorate is home to the liquid gas project -- the biggest industrial project in Yemen -- which resumed operations after al-Qaeda was driven from the area, he said, adding that the group used to smuggle weapons from there.

"Work is under way to implement security measures in other areas where al-Qaeda was in control, in Mayfaa directorate in Azzan and other areas," he said.

Residents of Balhaf, Azzan and other areas along the southern coast suffered under al-Qaeda, al-Qamishi said, and rejoiced when these areas were liberated.

"We have seen the joy of locals when al-Qaeda was defeated and expelled from their areas," he said, adding that they have called on the local authority to fulfill their duty and to maintain security and bring back the army.

The local authority is doing this to the extent of its capabilities, he said, adding that 2017 "will be a year of development and completion of projects, which came to a standstill after al-Qaeda put a break in the works in these areas".

Shabwa's southern directorates, where al-Qaeda had a large presence, were the hardest hit, al-Qamishi said.

"Shabwa province is nestled in the middle of other highly volatile provinces where members of al-Qaeda are dispersed," including Hadramaut, Marib, al-Bayda and Abyan, he said, and was targeted as it is an oil producing province.

Development projects re-activated

Since al-Qaeda's ouster, the security situation has been stable in Shabwa's Mayfaa directorate, Mayfaa local council secretary-general Yaslam Bajnoub said.

"Since members of al-Qaeda left Azzan, development projects have found their way back, such as a road construction project and a maternity and pediatric hospital that is under construction in Azzan," he told Al-Mashareq.

The Mayfaa local council met with the mayor to discuss reactivating development projects in the areas of health, education and infrastructure, he added, as well as finishing projects that have been stalled since 2014.

"Development projects cannot be implemented unless security and stability are restored, which is what is happening after al-Qaeda's ouster from Azzan, among other areas," he said.

Al-Qaeda elements in parts of Shabwa "have had a negative impact on development and brought projects to a halt", said Ahmed Khamis of the Shabwa local authority.

In particular, he said, the group's seizure of the liquid gas export facility in Balhaf stopped the wheel of progress.

Revenue from the gas facility used to fund the salaries of teachers and health care staff in directorates the gas pipeline passed through, he said, noting that with the suspension of production, many of these facilities closed their doors.

"Directorates that were free of al-Qaeda had better chances of having [uninterrupted] development projects over the past period," he added.

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