The freeing of the 73 soldiers was likely to bolster the standing of the terror network in Yemen, where its fighters took advantage of more than a year of political turmoil to capture areas in the nearly lawless south. The negotiations went through both tribal and religious channels, suggesting that the al-Qaeda network in the south has in some ways been integrated in the area's social fabric.
The soldiers were freed in the city of Jaar in the southern province of Abyan in a ceremony attended by top leaders of the terror network in Yemen, including military leader Qasim al-Rimi, witnesses and the statement said. The mediation lasted three days and involved asking Yemen's military to halt attacks on the city, including airstrikes, while the talks were in progress. The soldiers left in trucks and private cars for the nearby port city of Aden.
Al-Qaeda has held Jaar for a year. The province's capital Zinjibar is also under al-Qaeda control, but government troops fought their way into its center last week.
The released soldiers pledged in writing not to resume fighting al-Qaeda militants, said witnesses.
In a separate development, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has resigned from his post as head of his one-time ruling Congress Party, clearing the way for his successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to take over when the party holds its annual meeting later this year, party officials said. Abdul-Karim al-Aryani, the party's vice president, will lead the party until then.
Saleh was forced to step down in the face of a yearlong uprising against his authoritarian rule. He handed over power to Hadi in February as part of a U.S.-backed peace deal offered by neighboring Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Associated Press Writer Ahmed Al-Haj, reporting from Sana'a, Yemen, in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10218626