|Armed tribal forces keep watch in the town of Rada after the fighters pulled out on Wednesday [AFP]
Hundreds of al-Qaeda-linked fighters have bowed to tribal pressures and withdrawn from a Yemeni town they had held for nine days after authorities pledged to free 15 of their colleagues, tribal sources said.
"They have left the town" of Rada, located 130km southeast of Sanaa, the capital, one tribal source said on Wednesday, hours after a senior military official said that mediators had convinced the fighters to withdraw.
Some mediators, who had formed a committee of 35 dignitaries from seven different Yemeni cities, told the AFP news agency they had warned the fighters to leave Rada voluntarily or they would be forced out.
In exchange, the mediators promised the gunmen that authorities would free 15 of their fellow fighters and a committee comprising town residents would be formed to replace Rada's "corrupt officials".
The commission was formed and five fighters have been released thus far, with the rest expected to follow in the next two days.
A local dignitary, Ahmed Kalaz, confirmed the exit of the fighters, who he described as close to Tarek al-Dahab, the brother-in-law of Anwar al-Awlaqi, who was killed in a US air strike last September.
Washington accuses Awlaki, a Yemei-US citizen, of a main role in the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda.
Khaled al-Dahab, Tarek's brother, said their third brother Nabil, a fighter seized by Syrian authorities as he was returning from Iraq and handed over to Yemen, was among the five released on Wednesday.
'Returning to normal'
As news of the gunmen's withdrawal spread, Rada residents took to the streets in celebration, firing shots in the air.
"Our town is celebrating this event as war and chaos have been avoided," said one resident, Faisal al-Riashi, reached by telephone.
"Life in Rada is returning to normal and residents have begun removing rocks" used to block roads, said another resident Aref al-Amri.
He also said that shops were reopening.
Rada was overrun on January 16, the latest in a series of towns and cities, mostly in the south and east, to fall as al-Qaeda affiliated fighters swept through parts of the country, with the central government weakened by months of protests.
Tribes, who are often heavily armed, still play a vital role in Yemen's politics and society, either fighting alongside the al- Qaeda-linked groups or joining with the army to fight against them.