Fighting in the Yemeni city of Taiz, where tribal fighters have been battling with Shiite rebels known as Houthis. Photo: AP
An Australian mercenary has reportedly been killed in Yemen, alongside six Colombian troops.
The Australian commander was named as Philip Steetman by Arab news service al-Masdar, although other media outlets have identified him as Philip Stitman.
He was among those killed during attacks near the heavily contested southern Yemen city of Taiz.
He is reportedly the first Australian citizen to be killed in the nine-month Yemen war.
However the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not confirmed the Australian’s death. The Australian Defence Force is referring all queries regarding the matter to DFAT.
The mercenaries, including the Australian, were employed by a US private military contractor once known as Blackwater, enlisted by the United Arab Emirates to form a battalion of foreign troops.
The UAE has sent hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to fight in the Yemen conflict. The Australian was reportedly leading a group of six Colombians in an advance towards Taiz when they were killed.
Yemen is in the grip of its most severe crisis in years, in which loyalists of the beleaguered Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are battling the rebel Houthis and their allies for control of the country.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of disparate forces in the war against the Houthis.
The private security contractors hired by the UAE form part of the Saudi-led coalition, which also includes Egyptian and Sudanese troops.
On Monday, the United Nations special envoy for Yemen said the government and Houthi rebels had agreed to start peace talks in Switzerland next week and appeared willing to accept a ceasefire.
The agreement came amid escalated fighting around Taiz.
Blackwater is a contentious name in the murky world of private security contracting for its role in the Iraq war and a massacre in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in 2007.
Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince – a former US Navy Seal turned billionaire – Blackwater emerged as a private military powerhouse during the Iraq War, as it paid mercenaries huge salaries to join the conflict.
However, four of its guards were found guilty of opening fire with sniper rifles and grenades on a crowd of civilians, killing 17, while escorting a diplomatic convoy in Iraq.
Earlier this year the mercenaries were sentenced: one was given a life sentence, while the other three were given 30-year prison terms.
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