Yemen's sidelined President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Yemen's sidelined President Ali Abdullah Saleh, pictured here on December 7, needs "serious" medical treatment which will force him to go abroad, the UN envoy to the country said Wednesday. © - AFP/File
Yemen's sidelined President Ali Abdullah Saleh
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AFP
Last updated: December 21, 2011

UN envoy: Yemen's Saleh needs treatment abroad

Yemen's sidelined President Ali Abdullah Saleh needs "serious" medical treatment which will force him to go abroad, the UN envoy to the country said Wednesday.

UN representative Jamal Benomar also highlighted international fears over the spread of Al-Qaeda's influence in Yemen where the government has lost control of huge swathes of territory.

Veteran strongman Saleh agreed last month to hand over power to his deputy but remains honorary president until an election scheduled for February 21.

Saleh was wounded in a rocket attack on his presidential palace in June and has already twice been to Saudi Arabia for treatment. UN leader Ban Ki-moon said last month that Saleh had told him he wants to go to New York for treatment.

"My understanding is that President Saleh still requires serious medical treatment, and medical treatment that he will require outside of Yemen," UN envoy Benomar told reporters.

"My understanding is that efforts are being made for arrangements to be concluded for him to get this treatment," Benomar added after briefing the Security Council on what he called the "highly volatile" situation in the Arab nation.

According to diplomatic sources, Saleh suffered serious burns across much of his body in the bomb attack on his palace.

The president remains at the center of controversy over Yemen's future with growing calls for him to face justice for alleged attacks on anti-government protesters.

A deal sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council, under which Saleh handed over powers to Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, gave Saleh immunity from prosecution.

The UN envoy also said that Al-Qaeda now controls at least three cities in southern Yemen and the transitional government faces a "huge challenge" to establish its authority.

Benomar said that five or six of Yemen's 18 provinces were in the hands of insurgents, government opponents or Al-Qaeda.

He said there has been a "spectacular development and expansion of Al-Qaeda" and its allies, particularly in Abyan province.

It controls the cities of Jaar and Zinjibar and other territory close to the southern capital Aden, diplomats said.

"The new government is going to have a huge challenge, which is re-establishing government control over the various parts of the country that are lawless now," Benomar told reporters.

The envoy said he was confident the election would go ahead in 60 days but added: "For the transition to succeed it is very important for the government to retake control."

Benomar said Al-Qaeda had been helped by the "political vacuum" created by the unrest against Saleh and battles between rival groups in the country. He said the "worrying developments" were being discussed by the major powers on the Security Council.

Al-Qaeda does not just preach "Jihad", Benomar said. "It also has a discourse about local grievances, and the people of the south have a lot of local grievances" -- jobs, social services and the humanitarian plight of the displaced.

"They are playing on these grievances and also teaming up with other anti-government troops in the south," the envoy said, highlighting Yemen's strategic position in the region near maritime routes and next to some of the world's important oil fields.

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